16 July 2019 / St Paul's Church, Napier / By Louis Pierard
The Aroha Quartet, one of the nation’s musical treasures, comprises members of the NZSO. With economy of effort, the players therefore plan their performance schedule around the regional habits of their orchestra. Unlike most visiting chamber music groups, the tour and its publicity fall outside the ambit of the highly successful NZ Chamber Music’s successful subscription series, an enterprise that guarantees effective concert promotion and consequent good attendances.
The Aroha Quartet thus slips under the radar, dependent on its email subscribers and word of mouth. Last winter the group played in Havelock North to an audience of just eight. At Napier’s St Paul’s Church that host was at least quadrupled and, given the excellence of the performance, assisted by the magnificent pianism of Deidre Irons, is guaranteed to increase with successive visits.
The programme opened with Mozart’s String Quartet No 17 in B-flat major KL458 “The Hunt”, the composer at his sunniest, and played with deftness of touch and a boisterous charm that would have dispelled any seasonal blues. Starting with the jaunty 6/8 “horn call” that gives the quartet its name, the work has a joyful simplicity that belies its apparently difficult gestation. The Aroha players – Haihong Liu and Konstanze Artmann, violins, Zhongxian Jin, viola, and Robert Ibell, cello – played with precision and dedication, with the interaction between each individual line utterly natural.
New Zealand composer Brigid Bisley’s elemental “Unbound” was commissioned for the NZ String Quartet and received its first performance in Hawke’s Bay. An intriguing work, it has an appeal that begs repeated hearing. A counterpoint to the Mozart, the work had a pull that many would have found irresistible, and a sense familiarity, not only from the inspired use of Bach’s Ricercar opening but in the elemental attraction of opposites – from amorphousness to order; from stricture to release. Hopefully we will get to hear it again very soon as, perhaps oddly, it seems to improve with recollection.
The main work – the prospect of which should have brought music lovers, if they had but known, flocking to St Paul’s – was Brahms’ magnificent, muscular Piano Quintet in F minor with the incomparable Deidre Irons. And it fulfilled every expectation. Such magnificent power! Right from the tempestuous opening, Irons put her masterly stamp on the work. The five played with enormous energy, consummate delicacy, with an intuitive collaboration and infectious passion that captured both the quintet’s fire and its tragic beauty. It brought a tear to the eye. The monastic austerity of the venue’s pews all but forgotten, chamber music performances don’t come much better than this.
If you regret missing that ecstatic moment, go to the Aroha Quartet’s website and get on the mailing list. Those who did experience the event will no doubt spread the word – the group’s playing makes evangelists of us all.
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