Canberra quartet on its way to greatness

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Grevillea Quartet at Canberra Girls Grammar School. Photo: Victor Hu

Music / Grevillea Quartet presents Haydn and Tchaikovsky. At Canberra Girls Grammar School, June 23. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

A STRING quartet may be the most concentrated form of composition in the classical music world. The two pieces played by the Grevillea Quartet that are written 90 years apart showed how distilled string-quartet music writing can be.

The Grevillea Quartet is four young professional musicians living in Canberra that want to make a difference to the community through music. They are made up of Matthew Witney, violin; Shilong Ye, violin; Julia Clancy, viola and Samuel Payne, cello.

Beginning with Joseph Haydn’s “String Quartet No.2” in E flat Major Op. 33 (1781), the quartet was slightly tentative, but quickly grasped hold of the music through some sprightly playing, especially Shilong Ye on violin.

Its sound and timing stated that it was a well-practised group. The lovely sliding notes on violin in the second movement were produced with much playfulness and accuracy. The beguiling, slow, third movement with its colourful contrasts between the higher and lower strings is a piece that shows a great understanding of the form and it was perfectly executed.

They attacked the fourth movement with a delicate touch. This playful section is a delight to hear and was performed with equal delight.

While some in the audience clapped between movements and one applauded before a movement was over, it never put the quartet off.

As an interesting contrast to these works, Haydn wrote 68 string quartets, Tchaikovsky wrote three.

Haydn discovered that the string quartet provided the most suitable format to express his complex and at times comical musical language. Tchaikovsky showed his significant talent for melody and expressing his personal emotions in his string quartets.

Ninety years can make a lot of difference in the music world and this was immediately evident in the sound of the “String Quartet No.1” in D Major Op.11 by Tchaikovsky (1871).

The lyrical twisting and turning in this string quartet by Tchaikovsky, his second, is bursting with a deep longing that expresses Tchaikovsky’s emotional turmoil. However, it is also bright and full of light movement. Grevillea paced the emotional content well. Its  “hold and release” technique made the music sound its best.

Grevillea Quartet at Canberra Girls Grammar School. Photo: Victor Hu

The long, slow build that happens in the first movement was treated particularly well. All four players balanced the growing volume and tempo as one. The slow second movement is typical of that dark passion that melts through so much of Russian music. The cantabile quality of the music sat beautifully in the first violin as the other strings plucked along. The dance-like third movement and the complex final movement were balanced nicely by this young group.

While the Grevillea Quartet has a way to go, it is on the right track. The music it makes now is a good quality and a listener can hear the beginnings of a group style. It is on it way to competing with and, perhaps one day, rivalling other quality string quartets in Australia.

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