Review / Avital’s evocative music ends at ‘sunset’

music / “Avi Avital & Giocoso Quartet”, Llewellyn Hall, April 19. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

Mandolin superstar Avi Avital

MUSICA Viva has brought together a somewhat unexpected combination of Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital and the young, Vienna based, Giocoso String Quartet. Avital has toured Australia as a soloist previously, while this is the first visit by the quartet.

The program opened with Robert Schumann’s “String Quartet” in A minor, Op 41, no. 1 from 1842, which was the first quartet the composer wrote in a burst of musical creativity that year. The young quartet (they all look no older than 20 and the cellist about 16) went about their work confidently and together. They looked at each other for cues and timing and barely seemed to glance at the printed music. The gentle pace of the first movement gave way to a more frenetic second movement. One got the sense this could have got very messy if the timing was not right but it hung together very well. They took a ten second pause before the slow third movement, just a few seconds more than the audience expected, but it reset the clock effectively. A most satisfying quartet.

The quartet was joined by Avital for the second work, a newly commissioned piece by Elena Kats-Chernin. It was inspired by the story of Orfeo and quoted occasionally from the Monteverdi opera. The work explored the range of tonal colours from both the mandolin and the bowed strings. The second movement contrasted an impossibly high harmonic on the violin, a low drone on the cello and a melody picked out on plucked harmonics on the mandolin. A stirring final movement excited an enthusiastic response from the audience.

After the interval Avital demonstrated the technical possibilities of the mandolin with the Chacconne from J.S. Bach’s “Partita” No 2 in D minor for solo violin. This must be as complex and challenging piece of music to be attempted on a four string (or course) instrument and combines every technical element of playing the mandolin.

The final work, “Cymbeline”, was written by the American born composer David Bruce for Avi Avital five years ago and it has become a regular part of Avital’s repertoire. It is scored for mandolin and string quartet in three movements – “Sunrise”, “Noon” and “Sunset”. Avital describes it as programmatic music in the same manner as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and the three movements are certainly evocative of those three parts of the day. A charmingly beautiful piece of music performed in the same way. A fitting end to a most enjoyable concert.

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