The overwhelming feeling, at the end of last night’s concert by the Enigma Quartet, was one of pure pleasure. Some blog readers may recall that this correspondent has been critical, in the past, of some groups selected by Musica Viva Australia for their Rising Stars program. This time MVA has got it right.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect. It was live, after all, with sirens and traffic noise from outside the otherwise intimate Rocks venue. But there was so much good about it: a concert containing three gems of the string quartet repertoire, played assuredly by a relatively new quartet made up of four mature musicians in an ensemble formed with what is reportedly a purposeful dedication to the genre. There was confident and precise violin playing, some lovely viola work and beautiful partnerships between viola and second violin. This was chamber music delivered in a fashion that any audience would enjoy.
The program opened with an excellent reading of Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet. Certainly it was a big rendition, but Mozart can take the solid approach. The Enigma’s sound is full and rich, an admirable quality, but one they may find on occasions also a difficult one to manage. That is not to say their dynamic range was limited. Far from it, and attention to the subtle emphases that are so important in this work were finely executed. But there were times an intense pianissimo may have added something. The ability to play really softly, yet with intensity, can add so much. But let that be the only quibble. There is much passing of phrases from instrument to instrument in this wonderfully constructed work and these were handled very well. First violinist Marianne Broadfoot’s playing of some of the intricacies of the first movement, as well as the violin sonata like parts of the final were delightful.
Peter Sculthorpe’s Quartet No 11 “Jabiru Dreaming” opened the second half. It was suitably mysterious and rhythmical, although the players did seem a tad tentative with the bird calls which conclude both movements. Perhaps a little more abandonment is called for in delivering this typically Sculthorpe effect.
The concluding rendition of Janacek’s “Kreutzer Sonata” (Quartet No 1) was appropriately impassioned, delivered by four women who may well have also been inspired not only by Tolstoy’s grim novella but also by the feminist instincts often ascribed to Janacek. There was no lack of abandonment here. Enigma’s great sound was very much to the fore in this work, so much so that at times it seemed the quartet built the intensity so quickly that there was nowhere to go even though the music could have demanded yet more.
The overall program gave everybody a chance to shine, with lovely performances by a group who certainly warrant their spell as Rising Stars. This was chamber music the way it should be delivered and the audience went home very happy. If you want to go home happy, you can catch a repeat of this program at Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, on Friday 20 July at 7.00pm.