Tag Archives: Succession Of Notes

Tokyo String Quartet



Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


To listen to the Tokyo ensemble is akin to being ushered into the presence of musical demi-gods. These four superlative players have succeeded in subjugating their individuality in favour of a corporate music persona which, for decades, has enchanted audiences worldwide.


Tokyo String Quartet

Tokyo String Quartet

An account of Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A minor opus was a case in point, a glorious, flawless scaling of Olympus that left this listener groping for adjectives to convey the transcendental merit of the magnificent four.  


Most of this quartet is light years away from Mendelssohn’s trademark evocations of fairy fun. This is darker music by far, not least in the slow movement which was presented, with rich, organ-like sonorities, as a little miracle of profound expressiveness. Queen Victoria, a lifelong fan, once called Mendelssohn “a wonderful genius”. Could it have been this quartet which prompted that regal pat on the back?


Beethoven’s opus 95, his most compact utterance in chamber music, was given such superlative treatment as to be beyond criticism in the conventional sense. I dare say that had the shade of the notoriously tetchy composer hovered over the proceedings, it would surely have purred with pleasure. By even the most ferociously critical of standards, this, surely, was an interpretation that set the standard by which all other performances of the work would have to be judged.


Much the same could be said of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade in which the four musicians, like some Midas-clones, transformed everything they touched in this amiable work to musical gold. Certainly, in the hands of the four, even the most routine succession of notes was transformed into a compelling listening experience.


Carl Vine’s Quartet no 5 is a work of many moods, ranging from the bleak to the jaunty. Early on, the music is informed by a romantic ardour that calls Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night to mind. At every point, the writing is informed by an engaging immediacy. It was beautifully played by the Tokyo Quartet in a performance which brimmed with subtle nuances of tone and tempo. I imagine that any composer would give eye teeth to have their music performed by so superb an ensemble; it was one of the evening’s many highlights.


In so democratic an institution as a string quartet, it is perhaps invidious to single out an individual for special mention. But it would be ungracious not to particularly praise the artistry of violist extraordinaire Kazuhide Isomura.  In the hands of this veteran of countless concerts, the viola, that most treacherous of string instruments, did his bidding beautifully as it sang for its master with a rare purity of pitch and tone.

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)

Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky)
Scott Davie (piano)


Piano Sonata No 1; Fragments;

Oriental Sketch; Piano Piece in D

minor; Piano Piece in A flat


ABC Classics 476 3166


reviewed by Neville Cohn



Scott Davie provides one of the most satisfying recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition currently available on compact disc. His musicality runs like a silken thread through the performance.

Recorded sound is exceptionally fine – it is in the best sense “real” – allowing the listener to savour Davies’ interpretative probings to the full. There’s not a dull moment in a performance brimming with insights that make even the meanest succession of notes eminently listenable.

The Promenade episodes that dot the score are a case in point. In lesser hands, they can so easily sound routine, even humdrum. Not so here. In turn strident and gentle, they are like fine musical sorbets that provide the aural equivalent of clearing the palate between courses at a sumptuous feast.

If ever there was a work in which the first rate is inspired by the third rate, it is this. Had Mussorgsky not written this work – triggered by drawings and paintings of his friend Victor Hartmann – it is almost certain these quite ordinary efforts would long since have disappeared into history’s rubbish bin. But Mussorgsky’s wonderfully imaginative work – written in homage to his friend who ahd die aged a mere 39 years – ensures that his friend’s lacklustre drawings will be thought of as long as this keyboard masterpiece remains in the standard repertoire.

Consider Davies’ account of Bydlo. How masterfully he suggests – in the most unequivocal of terms – the ponderous, lumbering nature of a ox-drawn wooden cart. The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks is another gem, its insouciance coming across with featherlight buoyancy. By contrast, Catacombs, with its overlay of a tolling, treble-register bell, has about it an all-encompassing mood of desolation, of sadness beyond sadness.

In the first movement of the Rachmaninov Sonata, Davies marshals its tsunami of notes with remarkable success, giving to this epic utterance a sense of structure that would elude most others game enough to play it. Certainly, the wildness that lies at the heart of much of the first movement is impressively conveyed. Davies, too, manages to make the meretricious note spinning that is the finale sounds far better than it really is.

In a bracket of miniatures, Davies does wonders with Fragments coming across as a hushed essay in wistfulness. And one could hardly imagine a more sympathetic interpreter of the Piano Piece in D minor, its mournful essence judged to a nicety.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn