Haydn, Winkelman, Sibelius: The Australian String Quartet with guest musician, Timo-Veikko Valve on cello, Sunday, February 24, 2019, Gandel Hall, NGA, 2pm.
In their recent Canberra concert, the Australian Haydn ensemble also chose to perform Haydn’s String Quartet in C major, Opus 33, No 3 – The Bird, so music lovers who attended both concerts have had the pleasure of comparing versions played by the two ensembles.
As an opening work, the joyous effervescence of the music is a good choice. The first movement resembles a musical representation of Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls, with a melodious jumble of cluckings and flappings passed between instruments in a thematic relay.
In the second movement, Scherzando: Allegretto, naturalistic trilling bird calls were underpinned by the purring cello voice, followed by the sweet, strong sonority of the Adagio and the climactic Rondo: Presto of the final movement. As the movement reached its conclusion it was as if all four instruments poured out their individual sounds together to create one cascading torrent of splendid music: definitely a moment of united Guadagnini glory.
A nice piece of programming placed Helena Winkelman’s 2016 work Papa Haydn’s Parrot after the opening Quartet, proving that old instruments can make new music happily.
Each movement of Haydn’s Bird quartet is reflected in two of the eight miniature movements. The extensive use of harmonics on the lower strings, and the insertion of knitting needles under the strings on the fingerboard for a few phrases, gave voice to new and exciting sounds issuing from the quartet of 18th century instruments.
Playing a minuet in slow motion, deconstructing a waltz, passages in which the pitch melted and slid provocatively and the sounds of 18th century gentlemen scratching in response to the fleas in their wigs were just some of Winkelman’s playful motifs to captivate the listener.
The String Quartet in D Minor by Sibelius, Op.56 was chosen as acknowledgement of guest cellist Timo-Veikko Valve while Sharon Grigoryan is on parental leave. This is an extraordinary work for the mystical exploration of "hidden voices" the composer suggests, and for the almost orchestral sounds Sibelius draws forth from just four instruments.
The opening duet between Dale Barltrop, First Violin and Valve led the listener into an exploration in the natural world, with cascading in runs, leading to the major modulation, then snippets of cannon and dramatic, slow unison passages that resonated like organ chords.
The Vivace created sounds of dancing leaves rippled by breezes through birch forest and an evocation of hide and seek as the instruments wove the musical depiction of an elaborate chase. Long sighing phrases and languid intertwining themes distinguished the Adagio leading into the Allegretto and a rhythmic pulse suggestive of folk dancing.
In the culminating Allegro movement, Sibelius’s symphonic talent marshalled the forces of nature to combine their voices. Savage spiccato and tremolo bowing forged with intersecting, questing melodies brought the performance to a dramatic conclusion, with a suspicion that the elemental forces summoned by Sibelius might now be running free through the gallery and out into the antipodean afternoon.