String Quartet No.1 in B minor, Op.50
String Quartet No.1 in C, Op.49
String Quartet in A minor, Op.132
Goldner Quartet [Dene Olding & Dimity Hall (violins), Irina Morozova (viola) & Julian Smiles (cello)]
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 24 February, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This is a group from down under. The Goldner members have been playing together since 1991, though the quartet was not founded until 1995. There a CD box set of the complete Beethoven quartets (live) and two volumes of Peter Sculthorpe’s quartets, none of which is available in the UK. The group has plans to record two piano quintets by Bloch with fellow Australian, Piers Lane.
Apparently, Prokofiev used his admiration for Beethoven’s string quartets as inspiration for his own first essay in the genre. In this concert, the first movement broke out more like Haydn – and why not? The busy accompaniment was crisp, rapid, pause-less and spiky, not unlike Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony, which in that case was, according to its composer, definitely modelled on Haydn’s style.
Soon, the Goldner dropped the somewhat nervy vigour in order to pursue the emotional-theatrical – in splendid incoherence. The group caught changes in tempo and dynamics within a movement well. Irina Morozova delivered the viola theme of the Andante finale affectingly and sonorously. Surely Prokofiev intended this dignified and distinct voice of the viola to emerge from the hubbub in just this way.
Shostakovich’s First Quartet appeared eight years later than Prokofiev’s, when the composer was in his early thirties.
The performance gave the impression of a rather bland, sweet little thing – a gentle, simple, quite possibly mock-simple, work by the newish teacher of composition at the Leningrad Conservatoire. Shostakovich introduces the quartet as an attempt to “convey images of childhood, rather naïve, bright, spring-like moods”. This is misleading. By many people’s standards, there can have been nothing simple about Shostakovich’s childhood, Stalin or no Stalin. The Goldner Quartet missed this. The child is not a tousle-headed charmer, but one who has lived through enough to know that life’s smooth surfaces and naïve melodies have an astringent, awkward accompaniment, whose voice resonates through interspersions from viola and cello. Listen to the Shostakovich Quartet playing this music (on Regis).
The Beethoven, likewise, was grand but bland. The Goldner Quartet is extremely accomplished, technically assured and the musicians play with confident extraversion. They are concerned to get the tempo vigorously right, to play together most stirringly and to produce arresting sounds with the utmost professional competence. These are not qualities to be sniffed at. It takes much skill and hard work to reach a standard that qualifies you to be on the international circuit.
But depths, for them, are fairly shallow affairs. In the third movement ‘Heilige Dankgesang’, a ‘Spiritual Song of Thanks to the Godhead from Someone Recovering Now, Recently Convinced He Was About To Die’ there is nothing bland or tight-lipped: there was about the playing, unfortunately. It moved ahead without sending you to sleep. You were aware of being in the antechamber to something of great stature. It was as if you were being told all this, rather than hearing it for yourself. Beethoven’s own voice did not come through.
The encore, a movement from Peter Sculthorpe’s String Quartet No.8, was brilliantly conceived and brilliantly played. ‘Modern’ it is, delightfully so, with a catching playfulness, whose taut elegance reminded of Barbara Hepworth in lighter vein.