Review: Britten Paterson Beethoven (Australian String Quartet)

Photo supplied by Australian String Quartet

The Australian String Quartet delivered an exceptional evening of music at the Brisbane Powerhouse with Britten Paterson Beethoven, performing three pieces including a new commissioned work from Australian composer David Paterson.

The Australian String Quartet (ASQ) was formed in 1985 and currently comprises Dale Barltrop and Francesca Hiew on violin, Christopher Cartlidge on viola, and Michael Dahlenburg on cello. Based at the University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium of Music, the ASQ perform on a matched set of 18th century Guadagnini instruments, handcrafted in Italy by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini between 1743 and 1784.

Photo supplied by Australian String Quartet

The concert opened with Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimenti, written and premiered when Britten was in his early 20s as part of an unfinished suite for quartet intended as a series of portraits of school friends. The works received a cold reception at their premiere in 1933 and were subsequently revised into their current form in 1936. These musical miniatures were varied, from the sharp and playful March to the leaping, nostalgic Waltz, and concluded with the rise and fall in energy of Burlesque.

Photo supplied by Australian String Quartet

The second piece of the evening was the Brisbane premiere of a new composition by Australian composer David Paterson, commissioned by the Australian String Quartet in celebration of the birthday of ASQ patron Patricia Davidson. This piece was Paterson’s first string quartet, and my personal highlight of the concert.

The Paterson piece opened with a complex and lively Allegro, which circled back on itself and included plucking strings that evoked the falling of raindrops. The second movement, Adagio Tranquillo, was gentle, a slow unfurling that built slowly to become bigger and brighter like the dawning of a new day. The third movement, Toccata and Chorale, was quick and ominous, interspersed with bursts of increased volume, and the fourth and final movement, Fugue and Finale, was filled with the earlier energy and liveliness.

Photo supplied by Australian String Quartet

The concert concluded with Beethoven’s ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet in C Major. Published in 1808, this was the third of Beethoven’s three Razumovsky string quartets named for Count Andreas Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador in Vienna, who commissioned the works. Although Razumovsky requested that Beethoven include a Russian theme in each quartet, this third quartet does not explicitly contain such a theme, whereas the first two did. The quartet rises and falls across four movements, filled with colour and drama and finishing with an energetic flourish.

Photo supplied by Australian String Quartet

The musicians of the Australian String Quartet were enchanting to watch as a whole, and demonstrated incredible individual virtuosity and skill. It was fascinating to note the differences in their physical styles of playing, and to see (and hear) more closely the interplay and overlap of each instrument, especially in the matched set.

A concertina of glass panels arranged behind the musicians brought the performance space forward in the Powerhouse Theatre and reflections on the glass added further visual texture, as did the lighting, which changed with each piece.

The overall harmony and cohesion of the quartet, as well as the technical skill and precision on display, made Britten Paterson Beethoven a joy to experience; an uplifting, inspiring concert and an impressive showcase of musical ability and artistic flair.

Britten Paterson Beethoven was performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse on 13 April 2022, and will be performed at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 26 April.

Click here for more information about the Australian String Quartet

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