CIMF / Schubert in a distinguished and worldly tone

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The Partridge String Quartet. Photo: Peter Hislop

Canberra International Music Festival / Concert 3, “Schubert Sublime I”, The Partridge String Quartet. At Fitters’ Workshop, Kingston, May 1. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

“WITH happiness” best describes how the audience reacted to having the Canberra International Music Festival back after the 2020 covid shutdown and hearing the Partridge String Quartet perform a seminal work of Franz Schubert.

The Partridge String Quartet, which takes its name in honour of a previous member of the group, consists of William Huxtable, violin; Karla Hanna, violin; Eunise Cheng, viola; Daniel Smith, cello, and Blair Harris, cello.

“Gemütlichkeit” is a German word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer”. And this quintet has all that, but with darker times soon ahead for Franz Schubert, his “String Quintet in C Major” D 956, composed in 1828 just before his death, covers much light and dark musical territory over its almost one-hour length.

It has been described as “terrifyingly beautiful”, and that it surely is. Leaning towards tragic, the piece begins solemnly. The complex first movement moves through much development and progression. With a short motif indicating new sections, along with the dynamic counterpoint made this one, long movement sound like a complete symphony.

William Huxtable and Karla Hanna, violin. Photo: Peter Hislop

Sitting in the back row at the Fitters’ Workshop, it was possible to pick out even the softest pizzicato from one instrument. The sound quality of the slight amplification made this music intimate, it also resonated the clarity of this group.

The adagio is like a warm conversation between friends. One early section has the first violin and the second cello in unison, plucking soft notes as the other strings floated high above them. That was an exquisite moment before the contrasting fire and fury took over. It’s a restless movement highlighted by an intense expression of tenderness throughout.

This group, especially for players so young, create a distinguished and worldly tone. They read each other well with little eye communication. And that second cello played by Blair Harris created a difference to the quality of sound.

The scherzo made a profound statement, but it also sounded like a sea shanty. This section requires much musical dexterity, and these players had that and then some. It’s perhaps the most varied movement and the most beautiful.

The final allegretto section hit the audience with virtually no break from the third. It almost immediately echoed something similar to that very catchy sea shanty-like tune. It developed into a dance-like form, but when the cellos played in parallel, it filled the space with warmth. This work ends strongly and triumphantly.

This monumental quintet received a grand treatment from these performers. Fittingly, the audience exploded at the end and they called them back on to stage with rambunctious applause.

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