World Premiere: Ross Edwards String Quartet No 2
Musica Viva’s Coffee Concerts are generally pleasant social occasions. Good coffee and cake, good company and good music. Often, however, the concerts lack the atmosphere and mood of an evening out at the concert hall. This was far from the truth on Tuesday as MVA presented the world premiere of Ross Edwards String Quartet No 2.
The morning was notable also for two other reasons. First was the welcome from MVA CEO Mary Jo Capps who was quite direct in telling the full house that their ticket purchase was not enough and that they had better put their hands in their pockets if they wanted concerts of this nature. (She avoided reminding the assemblage that a bequest would also do nicely, perhaps a considered omission given the average age of the audience). Times are clearly tough in the arts world it seems. Happily not so tough that the Elizabethan Theatre Trust were unable to build a new sound shell behind the stage. It looks imposing and allows better direct access to the stage than the old, unlamented, red velvet curtain. Initial impression was that the acoustics in the hall have been significantly improved which is great for string quartets for whom the old set up was less than enhancing.
The premiered work is one of three Ken Tribe AC commissioned some years back, the others coming from Peter Sculthorpe (String Quartet No 17) and Carl Vine’s Quartet No 5. It is a valuable addition to the growing string quartet repertoire from Australian pens (or should that be computers). Truly the work displayed all the hallmarks of a composer at a peak in his career, demonstrating the confidence of his maturity.
Ross Edwards, in introducing the work, referred to his intent to reconcile many elements of his creativity over the years. Yet this was no retrospective. He also warned the audience, perhaps in a nod to their advanced years, that the work had very challenging aspects. In the event this was clearly not the view of the audience who took the performance in an atmosphere of intensity, which is sadly rare at chamber music concerts. This was edge of seat stuff and the silence throughout was palpable.
The Goldner Quartet displayed their love for Edwards and his music in an impressive display of musicianship. The first two movements contained many fresh ideas crafted from the extensive palette Edwards has at his disposal, contrasting urgency and reflection. The third movement, which contains a special reference to first violinist Dene Olding through the inclusion of the cadenza from Edwards Violin Concerto, is bright and exciting music. It comes to such an abrupt end that the audience gasped in surprise and could hardly contain themselves from spontaneous applause. The trade mark Maninyas returned in the fourth movement for an emotional finish.
The second work on the program was Beethoven’s Op 18 No 1. Beethoven is not a composer whose work takes lightly to the thought of second place. The performance was beautifully nuanced. If at times it seemed a trifle big this may have just been the benefit of the new sound shell. No, not second in any sense of the word. But I suspect Beethoven would have been happy to have been associated with Ross Edwards in this particular concert.
Ross Edwards String Quartet No 2 will receive its second performance, also by the Goldner, at the Campbelltown Arts Centre on Saturday 8 May at 1.00pm in a program including Vine, Sculthorpe and the second performance of Ian Munro’s first string Quartet, recently premiered at the Coriole Festival. The Saturday concert is part of the International Society for Contemporary Music World New Music Days 2010 Festival.