Thoughtful programming and an excellent standard of performance by the Tinalley String Quartet have once again made braving the Winter cold for their concerts well worth the effort. Further enticements were their guest artists: the incomparable Greta Bradman and a cellist unfamiliar to most Melbourne audiences, Umberto Clerici. Originally from Turin in Italy, Clerici is currently Principal Cellist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Hopefully, we will be able to hear much more of this charismatic artist in the near future.
The choice of items for the first half of the program was based on the link between Mendelssohn and the composer whom he championed: J. S. Bach. The twenty-year-old Mendelssohn composed his String Quartet No. 1, Opus 12 in the same year he conducted Bach’s St Matthew Passion. This second foray into string quartet writing is full of youthful ardour and that was the quality embraced by the members of the Tinalley Quartet on this occasion. On first violin, Adam Chalabi played with a pliable musicality that overflowed with emotional energy. Displaying velvety warmth on the lower notes and silvery purity in the upper register he created a world of Romantic lyricism that reached the heart of the music. Lerida Delbridge was an accomplished and sympathetic partner in terms of colour and eloquent musical intention.
“Erbarme dich” from St Matthew Passion is a soprano aria of transcendent beauty and one of Bach’s most treasured pieces. Calvin Bowman’s tasteful arrangement for soprano and quartet was performed with moving sensitivity. Chalabi played the ravishing violin solo with expressive flair while Greta Bradman’s distinctive, dark-hued soprano delivered a serene vocal line.
The second half of the program opened with Bowman’s reimagining of Schubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchen for the same forces. Bradman’s contrasting characterization of the voices of The Maiden and Death was remarkably dramatic as she was able to darken her tone to give Death a powerfully ominous quality. In an effective transition to Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” String Quartet No. 14, she remained standing quietly on the platform as the quartet immediately continued, only leaving when the mood shifted after the short opening section. Again, technical virtuosity and musical drive were abundant, illuminating Schubert’s juxtapositions of tenderness and anguish. There was some particularly impressive playing in the set of themes and variations of the second movement.
In both the Mendelssohn and Schubert quartets, however, the balance between the instruments was sometimes less than ideal. This may have been partly due to the seating positions. Placed opposite the first violin, Justin Williams’ viola tended to be overshadowed by the power of Clerici’s cello – an effect that does not at all imply that the cello playing was in any way lacking in subtlety. In fact, a benefit of this arrangement was that it allowed more of the audience to enjoy Clerici’s animated physicality as he immersed himself in the music and communicated with his fellow artists. It was one of the many pleasures of what was an enormously satisfying concert much appreciated by the capacity audience.
.Heather Leviston heard Tinalley String Quartet ‘s concert To The Eternal Source at Melbourne Recital Centre Salon on July 31, 2017.