Triumph of quality over quantity

17 September 2016     /    REVIEW    /    John Button    /    Dominion Post, Wellington

String quintets by Mozart and Brahms
New Zealand String Quartet (Helene Pohl, Monique Lapins, Gillian Ansell, Rolf Gjelsten) with James Dunham (viola).
Michael Fowler Centre,  September 17


This was the second of a series of three concerts on the one day as part of a mini-festival called "Quintessence" (in addition to the NZSQ the eminent American violist James Dunham).

The first concert of two of Mozart's six string quintets was played by a group of young Christchurch players, Pettman Players from the Pettman Junior Academy (Auckland and Christchurch), which I did not hear, and the third concert featured Mozart and Brahms interspersed by a short piece by the talented Salina Fisher, which also I did not hear.

But the middle concert, which I did hear, was a superb musical occasion. Although it featured just the two works – Mozart's String Quintet No. 5 in D, K593 and Brahms' String Quintet No.1 in F, Op.88 – and was not long, it was a triumph of quality over quantity, both in the music itself and in the stellar performances.

Firstly, I must say I have never heard a small chamber ensemble sound as good as this in the large space of the Fowler Centre. Perhaps it was the fact that the all but the cello stand to play that helped give a combination of space and immediacy to the sound, but the playing itself was gloriously buoyant and open, even in the most intricate of passages.

The lovely Mozart work was so beautifully played that time passed in a flash. The Brahms quintet – the first of two he wrote for strings – is a denser work but, even here, there was a wonderful clarity married to an almost balletic lift to the playing that made previous experiences of the work seem heavy by comparison.

Wonderful playing to a slightly smaller audience than it deserved.

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