Last night marked, in a sense, the passing of yet another string quartet, with the final subscription concert of the Australian String Quartet in its current form. But, stay the starting tear, for the final performances of the ASQ with Sophie Rowell in the lead will not take place until the Huntington Festival in November this year. If you haven’t booked already, it’s too late. The festival is a sell-out.
So how did it feel to be saying goodbye? The audience were, strangely, a somewhat unenthusiastic lot, even for a Sydney chamber music audience. They were unmoved by a respectable reading of Haydn’s lovely Op. 76 No. 1 quartet and even remained quite passive after a most beautiful rendition of a Respighi piece for quartet and voice, featuring the glorious sound of Sarah McLiver. The work, Il Tramonto (the Sunset), no irony intended I am sure, was performed with a sensitive introspection which deserved louder appreciation. Golijov’s Two Songs for Quartet and Voice, performed after the interval, elicited a warmer response. Also faultlessly performed, with Macliver in her second gown of the evening. It must be said her dress sense, like her voice, is impeccable. It was, initially, a surprise that the two vocal works were not delivered before interval. Had your correspondent known the works he may have understood the sense in splitting them up. To have heard two such different musical gems back to back would have risked detracting from one or the other.
The concert concluded with the Ravel Quartet. While one of the great works of the genre and well played on this occasion, an argument could have been made for a bigger, more emotional finish. Go out with a bang, it is often said. Maybe something like Smetana From My Life, some Janacek or, of it had to be French, the Debussy. Something to lay the audience in the aisles. Anyway, the Ravel elicited polite applause and did nothing to intensify the sadness that should have ensued at the end of such quartet’s life. Perhaps that will happen at the Huntington Festival. Paul Clitheroe, the ASQ Chairman, bid a, mercifully, brief farewell, flowers were presented and it was all over. Maybe they all went out the back to Ivy for a wake. The night was, at 9.00pm, still young.
Having blogged previously about the demise of this ASQ it would be disingenuous to slip quietly away without mention of the new makeup of the ASQ. New first violinist Kristian Winter, while still young, has good string quartet experience behind him, after his time with the Tin Alley Quartet. They were laureates at Banff with him at the helm. He left them to pursue a composing career. Perhaps reality has struck. Finding a new violist was clearly more difficult. It is understood that the ASQ were still interviewing violists in late August. In any event the role has gone to Stephen King, currently a player with the ACO. King also has strong experience as a string quartet violist, having played and toured internationally with the USA based Coolidge Quartet. All that can be now said is may the old and the new members all get on well, musically and personally. It is no easy thing to create a new quartet. It will take time. We should all wish them the best of success.
Of course for those of us who delight in the playing of Sophie Rowell, there are continuing treats ahead. She will start 2012 with, inter alia, Selby and Friends during March. Take your pick from Turramurra, Springwood or City Recital Hall.