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August 11, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Classical Music: Takacs and Te Tira

Takacs Quartet, Chamber Music NZ, Town Hall, 24 July
NZSO, Michael Fowler Centre, 25 July

John Psathas doesn’t only do loud. New Zealand’s Olympic champion composer (and lecturer at the NZ School of Music), though renowned for the exuberant energy of such percussive scores as Matre’s Dance, has composed quiet meditative pieces ever since Waiting for the Aeroplane from his student days. A Cool Wind, premiered by the Takacs Quartet during their Chamber Music New Zealand tour, followed a progression from the quartets Abhisheka and Kartisigar, and also the Piano Quintet, all of which referenced the themes and microtonal subtleties of Balkan folk music. The new work developed the almost heterophonically independent part-writing of the 2006 piano trio Helix, into an entrancing tangle of freely weaving melismatic lines. There was little variation of pace, dynamic or density, except for a paring away of the texture to reveal a declaiming cello at the point where one would normally have expected a climax. The whole was rounded off by a delicate melodic cadence. Inspired by the haunting sound of the duduk (a unique woodwind with an oboe’s double reed and a clarinet’s cylindrical bore), A Cool Wind might be well served by an ensemble of such instruments, in the way that compositions by the Armenian Komitas have been taken back to their traditional roots. (Psathas however has not deserted the decibels entirely – another recent project involved the amplified rock band Little Bushmen.)

Dynamic change was very much to the fore in Janacek’s Intimate Letters. Here the Takacs displayed their polish and passion, taking us with them through a thrilling reading of the composer’s tone-poems on his unrequited love. The nervous restlessness reminded me of an earlier Romantic, Schumann.

The Quartet in G, D887, by an even earlier Romantic, Schubert, provided a fitting close to the programme. The Takacs elegantly negotiated the transitions between the driving dotted rhythms and a graceful Schubertian lilt.

Schumann himself proved an unexpected highlight of the concert by the NZSO/Te Tira Puoro o Aotearoa. Conductor Julia Jones drove a thrusting, virile, Beethovenian rendition of the Symphony No. 4 in which Schumann’s heavy orchestration, though occasionally wearying on the ear, was vindicated by the sonorous vigour of the result. Cellist Alban Gerhardt seemed barely able to manage the virtuoso ornamentation of his entry in Haydn’s D major Cello Concerto, but by the finale he was much more assured.

The other soloist, former NZSO Principal Bassoon, Preman Tilson, gave the first performance of Winterlight by Waikatobased Martin Lodge. Exploiting the plangent upper register, Tilson’s mellifluous tone (almost like a duduk’s) spun a thread of endless melody (reminiscent in its linearity of Lodge’s Sonatina for Solo Flute/Piccolo) that held the piece together: a monologue, interspersed with interjections of dialogue from a curiously astringent orchestra. Although there were suggestions of Debussy in the woodwinds here, and hints of Bruckner in the strings there, the overall sound was excitingly fresh and individual.

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