Music / “Beethoven, Vaughan Williams & Emma Greenhill”, Phoenix Collective Quartet. At All Saints Church, Ainslie, November 10. Reviewed by LEN POWER.
IN their final program for 2023, Phoenix Collective Quartet presented a varied program of three works, a world premiere of a new work commissioned from Australian composer Emma Greenhill, and string quartets by Vaughan Williams and Beethoven.
Founded in 2018 by Dan Russell, Phoenix has rapidly become a fixture of the Australian musical landscape with its own series of concerts touring Sydney, Canberra, Central Coast and Newcastle. The quartet consisted of Dan Russell, violin; Pip Thompson, violin; Ella Brinch, viola and Andrew Wilson, cello.
The concert began with Greenhill’s new work entitled “What We Cannot Say With Words”. A short work in two movements, “Mirage” and “Dust to Dust”, it began with a sense of optimism but also an edgy, worrisome undercurrent, leading to a feeling of things unresolved or unexpressed.
The second movement was dedicated by the composer “to those who are facing unimaginable suffering in the world today” and, while its initial dreamlike quality gave way to a sense of sadness, there was a hint of optimism in the final note. It was a work full of emotion very well expressed and it was given a fine, sensitive performance by the quartet.
Vaughan Williams “String Quartet No. 2” from 1944 commenced with a dark, brooding movement that explored unsettling themes. The composer’s frequent use of two time signatures created polyrhythms which added to this sense of darkness and discomfort.
These unsettling themes continued through the other movements producing a work that had a wartime sensibility, dark, dramatic at times and full of emotion. The quartet played it with great assurance and understanding.
The final work, Beethoven’s “Rasumovsky String Quartet no 7 in F major” was written later in the composer’s life when he was struggling with increasing deafness.
This work’s changeable nature was often passionate and colourful with light-hearted melodies leading to darker, tempestuous moments full of drama. The final movement, with its lush melodies was the highlight of this work. The quartet played it with great feeling, bringing out all the emotion in Beethoven’s music.
Members of the quartet introduced each of the works. Their relaxed, often humorous, insights into the works and their experience of learning to play them, added another welcome dimension to this fine concert.
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