In a well-chosen program the Flinders Quartet offered a nearly full Salon something special with each item. One was the collaboration with pianist Hoang Pham (pictured) in a beautiful Schumann work that gave the concert its title: Piano Heaven with Hoang Pham. Then there was the new work by Tom Henry, Scenes From A Poet’s Life For String Quartet.
Even the first work the Beethoven String Quartet In B-Flat, Op.18, No.6 had particular interest – in the person of Nicholas Waters, the new member of the Flinders Quartet and second violin.
It was reassuring to long-term supporters of the Flinders Quartet that the Beethoven begin with as spirited and balanced a dialogue as one could have hoped. Shane Chen was as always a confident leader with Waters faithfully echoing. Zoe Knighton’s cello had plenty of scales in the development of the first movement and violist Helen Ireland was the steady but necessary support she always is.
And even better example of the “new” quartet was the lovely four-part harmony of the adagio, with the phrasing particularly noticeable in the first and second violins. As often in the work the cello lent a lilting sound, although the third movement Scherzo had a more challenging rhythm for all four. Finally in the fourth movement changes of pace and mood brought intense, even fraught, chords and fine cello work by Knighton. Idea followed idea in the development of this movement: counterpoint, the lilt of earlier movements, reversion to slow harmony punctuated by strong chords and finally, a typical showy Beethoven ending.
It was quite a contrast to the next work, by Tom Henry, a shimmering soundscape from which the instruments emerged. The composer’s note quoted the poet Borges, and his work reflected the questing nature of the poem. As for the performance, the quartet distinguished itself by achieving an almost impossible synchronicity and also achieving the clean, sharp sound that distinguishes this ensemble. The composer was in the audience to receive applause for his work and for the performance it had drawn from the Flinders Quartet.
Finally, but of equal importance, was the Schumann. The marking for the first movement was Allegro brilliante, and this was achieved with extra resonance thanks to the piano, although the cello at times shared the melody. Chen’s romantic flowing violin was notable and, while it took all the combined power of the quartet to balance with the piano, this was achieved.
The second, march-style, movement was solemn with a staccato edge to begin and another vehicle for exact phrasing by all five performers. The music moved to a more flowing sound with all five as partners even as the piano “solo” led the development of the theme. The next, Scherzo, began with staccato piano scales punctuated by chords from the strings. Soon it was flirtation with time signatures as the strings took over the scales.
A kind of Coda, very festive and more like traditional scherzo had pizzicato for the strings, chromatic scales for piano. The music swept along to the kind of ending that tempts audiences to applaud before the work has finished! This audience had its concert manners in place however and waited until the final movement.
This was brilliant from the outset, the balance between the quartet and the pianist being the most noteworthy element as it had been throughout the work – that, and the virtuoso performance demanded (and achieved!) from the pianist. It must have been a challenge to keep all this together but the five players did so – and through all with a rich harmony. Finally, a contrapuntal passage led to the end with a brilliant series of chords and, at last, much applause.