Yearning, heartache and true love

21 August 2017     /    REVIEW    /    Elizabeth Bouman    /    Dunedin

Dangerous Liaisons, Hanover Hall, Dunedin, Saturday 19 August 

The New Zealand String Quartet’s 30th-anniversary tour reached Dunedin on Saturday with a celebratory recital for its first performance in Hanover Hall — well filled and excellent acoustically.

Entitled "Dangerous Liaisons", the programme of three major works offered infinite opportunity for the NZSQ to revel in highly emotive musical interpretation. The chosen passion-themed programme featured intense statements of yearning, true love, joy and heartache.

String Quartet No 2, Intimate Letters  (1928) by Janacek, was a musical torrent of the desperate feelings of an older man who had exchanged more than 700 love letters with a married woman 38 years his junior, whom he idolised.

There were some sweet and lovely moments, such as the opening of the Adagio second movement, but mostly the work progressed through four movements crammed with dissonance, jagged phrases and aggressive moods of exasperation. Overall, I felt the music spelt "Extreme Frustration", all brilliantly executed by the quartet.

Jack Body’s Saetas was inspired by Spanish religious custom, plus flamenco fervour and ardour. Very contemporary and colloquially fragmented in style, the work revealed many surprises, particularly in showcasing the talent of Rolf Gjelsten, who swapped his cello for an accordion. Passages of nostalgic solo melodies captivated as strings sang over accordion dissonance or counter refrains, and the whole progressed to a marching climactic finish, enhanced by a violinist’s percussive footwork to bass drum!

The amorous theme connected to Mendelssohn with Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 13,  written when he was 18 years old and newly heartbroken after a turbulent teenage relationship. The traditional harmonies and form of this four-movement chamber work were particularly comforting after Janacek and Body, and the exquisite delivery of the third movement  Intermezzo  was requested as an encore, along with a toe-tapping Yiddish number, for which the quartet swapped instruments. 

NZSQ has performed regularly throughout this country for 30 years and also achieved notable worldwide recognition. This was a memorable Dunedin recital and we look forward to continuing visits.

The New Zealand String Quartet Gratefully Acknowledges its sponsors and funders