Beautiful and delicate

Just a quick post today, as I have too much preparation on my plate for tomorrow. Last night (Monday) I went to hear the St Lawrence String Quartet and Diana Doherty at the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney. Sadly, I could only stay for the first half of the program, which comprised Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor, op 20 no 5, Gordon Kerry’s Elegy for String Quartet (2007) and Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major, K370.

Years ago, someone told me of a categorization of certain music lovers: it was either Bach or Handel, and either Haydn or Mozart. Well, for me it will always be Bach and Haydn.

But back to the performance itself. The Haydn was a beautiful, idiosyncratic reading. It was a slow reading in terms of tempo, somewhat unusual, perhaps making a certain statement from the ensemble against the more regular tendency to take Haydn at a livelier pace. The first movement always feels to me like a violin concerto with accompaniment, and the flailing legs and hips of the first violinist added to this preconception (at times, the movements were somewhat irksome and distracting … but the extraneous limbs seemed to settle after the first movement). The third movement, the Siciliana in F major really stood out, with extraordinarily delicate playing. The St Lawrence String Quartet have outstanding control in their dynamic range, and add subtle and sophisticated bowing techniques to enhance the notes on the score. The final fugue was spectacular.

Gordon Kerry’s Elegy, written after the occasion of the death of his mother, was an intensely personal work. A disclaimer: Gordon is a personal friend. I would like to hear this piece a few times more, before making a proper assessment. My first impressions are that of contrasting figures of joy and sorrow, befitting the process that transforms our memories of a loved one from the pain of loss to the comfort of reminiscence. The St Lawrence String Quartet performed the many extended techniques written in the score with the same masterly finesse on display in the Haydn. The end floated away in a most ethereal manner.

The audience favourite of the first half was undoubtedly Diana Doherty’s performance of the Mozart Oboe Quartet in F major. The sigh from the audience at the end of the first movement signaled a few things to me, in no particular order: relief in the tonal sounds of Herr Mozart after Gordon Kerry’s haunting, modern tone colours; delight at the continued improvement and subtlety of Diana Doherty’s masterful playing (better with each iteration); joy at the ever-familiar and popular Mozart work. Call me a philistine, call me a brute, call me anything but late for dinner, but the Mozart Oboe Quartet is not to my taste. Still, it was an essential crowd pleaser, beautifully rendered by Doherty and members of the St Lawrence String Quartet.

If you want to see them, they’re still on tour in Australia until 28 April. Next Sydney performance is this Saturday night. For more information, visit the Musica Viva website:

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