Music / “Freedom & Equality”, The Phoenix Collective, at the Wesley Music Centre, Manuka. September 19. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.
FREEDOM and equality are not hard to equate to music. Music frees the soul and it liberates people’s personalities. In this concert, I heard both qualities expressed in music.
The players in the Phoenix Collective at the Wesley Music Centre were Dan Russell and Yuhki Mayne on the violin, Ella Brinch playing the viola and Andy Wilson on the cello.
Beginning with the string quartet “Southern Harmonies” by American composer Jennifer Higdon, it had the feel and sound of older American music as created by composers like Aaron Copland and Charles Ives. This is music that speaks of a vast American pastoral landscape. The style was highly influenced by Higdon’s southern upbringing. The evocative, emotionally charged music began and ended with four independent voices sounding together.
The wonderful lush sound coming from the Phoenix Collective made it an even richer experience. Moving into a hoedown feel in the second movement, it came even closer to Copeland’s music. Phoenix seems quite at home with this style, it fits their character. Each performer swayed lively to the rocking country dance rhythms, which was based on a folk-dance called a Reel.
The sweet sadness of the third movement was like a long slow rest after a hot and sweaty dance. That slow movement continued until it was over. There were only three movements and that was all it needed to express its fundamental beauty.
Moving back a few hundred years, the audience then heard Haydn’s “String Quartet in C” Op. 20/2, where the cello got to play a lot of the melody lines. The quite strong variations in every movement were finely brought together in the complex final section that contained some wonderfully written music even though it was an early piece by Haydn.
Phoenix, are a tight-knit “collective”. They can make the music from hundreds of years ago sound contemporary through their expressive style. Adding strongly to the quality of the music was the fine acoustics of the Wesley Music Centre. It has just the right size and atmosphere for the intimate experience of chamber music.
After the interval, there was another change in the style of music with Shostakovich’s “Elegy for String Quartet”. The depth, complexity and emotional power in this music screamed of anguish and longing. This short piece was a real heart-stopper.
Tchaikovsky’s “String Quartet in D Major” Op. 11, is a most important work. The music of the second movement was said to have brought Tolstoy to tears. The thickly textured music, sounding rather orchestral was explained quite well by Dan Russell who doesn’t just play the music, he knows its history and its contexts as well.
This finely crafted music was equally well crafted by this highly in-sync group. They played with a dedication to the music that made it sound like it was coming from one voice, such is their accuracy and timing. The final movement was full of joy and bright colours.
After a good round of applause, Phoenix topped the concert off with an encore of a sweet Swedish song. It melted through the ears, into the heart.