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Australian String Quartet with Michel Dalberto (piano)

Australian String Quartet with Michel Dalberto (piano)

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Mrs Siddons, that greatest of English actresses of the 18th century (and immortalised on canvas by Joshua Reynolds), was said to have had a voice of such beauty and authority that when, on one occasion, she asked for a beer at a tavern, the bartended collapsed in a faint. So far as I know, no-one keeled over at the Concert Hall but the quality of sound produced by the Australian String Quartet was very much in the Siddons category. Certainly, its presentation of Mendelssohn’s Quartet in D minor from opus 44 produced a range of tonal colourings that constantly diverted and delighted the ear.

As well, although there were thought and consideration behind even the meanest phrase; there was nothing in the least academic or dry about the presentation.. On the contrary, there was throughout a sense of adventure and spontaneity about the playing, a remarkable feat of musicianship that allowed the work to flash into life in a way that augured well for the remainder of the program.

The chief joy of the evening was the ASQ’s account of Janacek’s Quartet No 1, known as the Kreutzer Sonata from Tolstoy’s novella of the same name. The composer identified strongly with this story of illicit passion because at the time, then aged 70, Janacek was infatuated with Kamilla Stosslova, a women decades his junior and married to boot. And it was into this composition that Janacek poured his unrequited love for Mrs Stosslova. The ASQ was entirely up to the challenge here, invariably successful in drawing out the work’s enshrined emotions that oscillate between lyrical refinement and an almost palpable sensuousness.

Throughout the work, the ASQ expounded Janacek’s idiosyncratic compositional argument with a musical logic that was irrefutable, thereby drawing the listener ineluctably into the composer’s unique sound and mood world. The finale was exceptionally fine with pizzicato sounding as if ripped savagely from the bodies of the instruments.

Ace French musician Michel Dalberto, who had earlier played Ravel’s Concerto in G with a skill bordering on genius, joined the ASQ in Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor, a work for which the composer reserved some of his loftiest musical ideas. And the five players, as if drawing inspiration from a shared musical consciousness, were entirely successful in conveying the grandeur and nobility that informs so much of the work.

Performances by the Australian String Quartet have now become an important and much anticipated feature of Perth’s music scene.