Your correspondent was the recipient of generosity last night. A friend, double booked, preferred the Nexus Piano Quartet concert. (This is understandable. Brenda Jones has a lot going for her, although Nexus seems to be suffering the problem of settling down with a first violin.) The ticket offer for the ASQ was gladly accepted. The donor will never know what he missed.
The concert was an undoubted gem, sparkling from start to finish, due in part to a delightful piece of program construction: Luigi Boccherini to Graeme Koehne via Glazunov and Shostakovitch (but not, of course, played in that order). The Boccherini and Glazunov works were both two cello quintets and Li Wei Qin was along to make up the numbers. Mind you, Li-Wei never “makes up the numbers”. A protégé of Ralph Kirschbaum from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, he is one of the finest cellists around today. Catch him at the Adelaide International Cello Festival in April if you can.
Thus the ASQ had virtuosity at its top and bottom. This was displayed beautifully in the Boccherini with first violinist Sophie Rowell showing all her considerable skills in partnership with Li-Wei who also made great things happen with his part, demonstrating his mastery of the full range of his instrument. For those who do not know, or perhaps ignore, Boccherini, he was a master cellist himself and wrote beautifully for the instrument. (Pace, cello students struggling through one or two of his pedagogic concertos. Perhaps one day you will get to play with a quartet like the ASQ.) It would be an egregious omission not to mention the viola part in this quintet. Sally Boud was no lesser participant in the conversations between violin and cello, playing her part with assured musicality.
Comments concerning virtuosity in string quartets in the previous post about the ASQ notwithstanding, the impeccable playing and musicianship of Ms Rowell warrants superlatives. Her partner, the violin, is clearly a fine instrument and together they produced, along with impressive articulation, a sound, at times so glorious, that it conjured up the feelings expressed by Herman Hesse:
Und die Seele, unbewacht
Will in freien Fluegen schweben,
Um im Zauberkreis der Nacht
Tief und tausendfach zu leben.
It should be left to the professionals to review the full program. One cannot but wonder, however, why the Glazunov Quintet does not get more playtime. It is a fine piece of romantic writing with lots of opportunity to let the first violinist shine. There are more than twentytwo cello quintets in the romantic repertoire, according to IMSLP. While the Schubert C Major is one of the great chamber works of all time, it would be good to rest it occasionally, like one would a star sportsperson, to allow others to shine.
Did anything last night point to the future? It would be disingenuous, considering the previous post, not to say that, sadly, last night’s performance reinforced the view that the ASQ cannot just recreate itself by advertising for a new first and viola. Whether the skills on display were the result of ten years together or four years in the current makeup, it is clear they would take a long time to recreate. Take the heart out of the beast and what is left? A heart transplant will surely produce a lesser ensemble.