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Review: Australian String Quartet with Timothy Orpen @ St Michael’s Church

St Michael’s on Greenhill is one of my favourite Festival venues, its friendly warmth and great acoustics just right for small music ensembles, so tailor-made for the award-winning Australian String Quartet.

The ladies’ first offering, Cantilene Pacifica by fellow-Aussie Richard Meale, was a nice opener, fresh and soothing, a sort of comforting, rocking lullaby (the ocean?), but also impassioned and at times almost fierce.

Their second offering was a more popular choice, Mozart’s Quintet in A for clarinet and strings, K. 581 and for this they were joined by clarinettist Timothy Orpen who has an amazing mastery of this difficult instrument. In his hands it came alive with a happy sound uncannily like a laughing human voice. For the opening Allegro he created an array of wonderfully rich tones, lively, liquid, tender, playful and funny before moving on to the trance-inducing melodies of the Larghetto.  After its sublime pathos came the lovely Menuetto leading to the final Allegretto with its sudden changes of tempo scattering impossible notes both high and low. Outstanding.

Their final piece was Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor D. 810, aka Death and The Maiden. I must admit this rather pushed my string quartet boundaries, starting with the Allegro whose abrupt changes created an urgent, unsettling soundspace. But the introspective second movement with its entwined songs rose to a technically demanding crescendo of feeling, while the abrupt Scherzo sent them rushing to the rhythmic rigours of the Presto with its obsessively repetitive pyrotechnics. Their much deserved encore was a single movement by Haydn.

The beautiful clarity and intelligence of this performance made for a truly uplifting afternoon of artistic excellence. Australians – come back soon.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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