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September 21, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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New Zealand String Quartet

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Playing in the university’s own Hunter Council Chambers, the New Zealand String Quartet performed four string quartets by the Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn. The concert was the second programme of two, as part of a tour in the commemoration of 200 years since his death. Both Haydn’s first and final works are both quartets, and was indeed the pioneer of the genre. His prolific output totaled sixty-seven complete quartets, all of which reflect the composer’s contented style.

Those which were chosen for the programme exhibited Haydn’s stylistic subtleties that range through his typically formal classicism. Particularly, they were selected to accompany a candlelit dinner later on in the concert series. However, the context quite truthfully reflects the stance of Haydn’s music—as a lot of his music was written often for aristocracy, it forced a pragmatic element into his creative process. It was for the same practical conservation that held him from writing music at all when he hadn’t the means of having it played. Sadly, that restriction perhaps led any new musical realisation to stagnate. Thus reflected, the four quartets performed held indifferent affect.

The playing of NZSQ was perhaps restricted as a result of the static nature of Haydn’s writing. They compensated by each taking turns of emerging from the texture of the music. However, their reactions were trivial, which made it difficult to take the music seriously. It was pleasing to hear, on the contrary, some clever contrapuntal textures perhaps from the influence of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In a rare occurrence, the F-minor quartet finished with a fugue. It had a curious theme both similar in length and melodic structure to that in the fugal capriccio of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Overture for Strings, BWV 1070. Although I would like to comment further on the quartet’s playing, it is difficult from such a limited expression. And disappointingly, the ensemble’s dress was an unsurprising kitsch response to contemporaneous trend.

Haydn was inevitably superseded, and through his own accord. The threat of his protégé, the young Ludwig van Beethoven, led him to lay tempestuous criticism on Beethoven’s Op. 1 piano trios. It was through the revealing gesture of jealousy that perhaps provided Beethoven the zeal to eventually surpass Haydn’s form with his Op. 18 quartets; those of which were ironically modeled upon those of Haydn. If not for the influence of Haydn’s clean and decisive structure—indeed, an epitome that still stands today.

New Zealand String Quartet
27 August 2009 – Hunter Council Chambers
String Quartet in D-major, Opus 64 No 5 ‘The Lark’
String Quartet in G-minor, Opus 74 No 3 ‘The Rider’
String Quartet in F-minor, Opus 20 No 5
String Quartet in G-major, Opus 77 No 1 ‘Compliments’

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