Bartók Mendelssohn Fischer (Australian String Quartet)
The Australian String Quartet is known for programming the most interesting works and for bringing new insight into string quartet literature, and this very European concert at Adelaide Town Hall featured contrasting quartets by Felix Mendelssohn , Béla Bartók and contemporary Moravian composer Pavel Fischer, exploring various ideas on string quartet composition.
Stephen King, Michael Dahlenburg, Francesca Hiew and Dale Barltrop. Photography © Jacqui Way
Handed over the microphone at the opening of the concert, ASQ’s new cellist Michael Dahlenburg officially welcomed himself as the quartet’s new cellist, and on this performance he comfortably and expertly played the role that the former cellist did. of ASQ Sharon Grigoryan has so wonderfully busy.
Bartók’s six string quartets are among his most renowned and important works of the genre. The ASQ started the evening with Bartók’s String Quartet No.3, which has four elements including a coda, but which is played attacca like a movement. Written in 1927 and earning him an award for writing for quartet in Philadelphia, Bartók’s third string quartet is short, shrill, dissonant and brooding, suggesting barely contained emotions. It begins quietly and then immediately intensifies, with agitated gestural strokes interspersed with motor passages and quieter rumination. Bartók is known for his research into Hungarian folk music and this quartet elaborates and extends the chosen folk themes to transform their character. The sense of anxiety and upheaval that aromatizes this work is reminiscent of the political and cultural upheavals in Eastern Europe after World War I, as Hungary was stripped of much of its pre-war imperial territory.
Bartók required the use of experimental techniques, including bouncing the bow off the strings, bowing with the wood of the bow, and plucking a string so that it clicks into the fingerboard to create a surprisingly punchy sound. The prominent use of glissandi adds an emotionally questioning tone. ASQ made this demanding job brilliantly – each of the quartet’s voices was clearly articulated, creating a captivating interaction.
Mendelssohn’s second string quartet in E flat major (Opus 12), composed in 1829, was numbered as his first, after having been published out of order. Written in its 20th year, this is a captivating work, reflecting the classicism more commonly associated with composers such as Haydn and Mozart rather than the romanticism of its own era, and it brings a pleasant calm after ruminations. troubled Bartók. the Adagio non troppo – Allegro non tardante first movement is expressively lyrical. The delightfully tweet Canzonetta: allegretto the second movement, positioned in place of a more typical scherzo, is well known, having been transcribed for guitar. the Molto allegro e vivace The fourth movement begins with a dramatic overture, and it’s a fast-paced, swirling dance that ends quietly.
Professor at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester and former Principal Violinist of the Škampa Quartet, Pavel Fischer’s String Quartet No 3 Mad piper was inspired by the story of Scottish bagpiper Bill Millin who, during the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day during World War II, rallied the troops with traditional bagpipe music. Obviously, the German soldiers refrained from shooting him because they thought he was mad. Rather than evoking Scottish tunes, however, Fischer’s quartet is based on central European folk themes and is therefore well associated with Bartók’s quartet. The opening theme of the first movement, which is subtitled Mad piper, establishes the hyperactive nature of the work; a second, more deeply ruminative theme then emerges. In this movement, Dahlenburg conjures up a singing human voice with wonderful playing. After a recap of the opening theme, a discreetly reflective third theme completes the opening movement.
The brief second movement is subtitled Carpathians, and it is a wild dance of this region. The third movement, subtitled Sad piper, presents a dismal and hauntingly beautiful viola solo, again evoking the human voice, and in which violist Stephen King excels, drawing a standing ovation at the end of the concert. The last movement, Ursari, begins as a rhythmic dance with a motor tapping on the cello strings, and with passages that evoke a galloping horse, before slowing down momentarily and ending in a frenzied dance. Rather than transforming the character of his chosen folk themes in Bartók’s fashion, Fischer seems to quote and rearrange them. By alluding to the parallels between Scottish and Central European folk traditions, Fischer makes us aware of the universality and importance of folk music.
Ahead of Pavel Fischer’s work, first violinist Dale Bartrop announced that at the end of this year, violist Stephen King will be stepping down to take on a new role at ASQ in music education and outreach. . Now in its 36th year, ASQ has welcomed a succession of Australia’s top musicians, and it continues to evolve and develop. ASQ constantly travels (if COVID lockdowns allow), unearthing the best string quartet music and presenting it to regional and metropolitan audiences across the country, educating audiences and re-energizing this vital musical genre.