The Famous Five Play Brahms: The Tinalley String Quartet Plays with Kristian Chong

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The Tinalley String Quartet.

The Tinalley String Quartet.

“As dreams are made on”
Sydney Opera House, Utzon Room: 23 July 2012

The Tinalley String Quartet
Adam Chalabi – violin
Lerida Delbridge – violin
Justin Williams – viola
Michelle Wood – cello

Webern – Langsamer Satz
Schumann – String Quartet in A minor, opus 41 no. 1
Brahms – Piano Quintet in F minor, opus 34
Kristian Chong – piano

In this the last performance of this program, the Tinalley String Quartet with their usual polish and serious, concentrated approach dipped into distant points in, without any futile attempt to span, romantic chamber music. The all minor key pieces each stood out distinctly by virtue of the composers’ individual emotional and intellectual language, while comfortably yoked together under the Tinalley’s distinctive voice. The subtler sense of humor, perhaps broader range of experience held in Brahms’ music made a very satisfying conclusion to the evening fitting so well the group’s very human tone — warm, but well-rounded and very clear, though at the same time they have a certain relaxed attitude, coloring the group tone as fits the music and their idea of the whole, rather than scrabbling for fleeting spectacle, which makes the performance very memorable. Kristian Chong, the invited pianist, got along very well with the group. Managing to get a remarkably sultry tone out of his Steinway, he seemed to expand the existing coloring of the group for that grand Brahms’ quintet, contributing as much oscuro as chiaro. No multiple-source fluorescent globes here. In the more individualistic writing which brings out each five of the players at some point, each showed an unforced and personal expression yet were always aware of the quintet as an expressive instrument in which their individual thoughts would fly on, the larger group picking up and carrying on the curve of their solo line.

Anton Webern’s slow quartet movement is more kaleidoscopic, more revolving in form than the Brahms or Schumann, perhaps necessarily as a short piece having to stand on its own. Without wasting a single note or a part of a note (each is very long so the tails are as important as the heads) — not that they ever seem to waste notes — they savored the whole piece, rather summoned it up as if it were one of the subtler forces of nature or emotion, the ones which work over time, so that it expanded beyond its temporal bounds. Again, their natural, intuitive, deeply expressive playing gave the music a generous, enveloping quality with their full but clean tone.

The clarity gave the sense of sunniness behind the clouds, even if unconscious or unsounded sun, to give the clouds definite edges and distinct textures. Schumann’s quartet allowed them to come out with either mood suddenly without warning, and unlooked for. This too with the Brahms quintet, whose bright ending never seemed quite to be hoped for in the ambivalent body of the piece. The tautness of the group, the precision of their timing worked very well for the Brahms especially, bringing out his rhythmic inventiveness and well sewn-up form.

With the audience never farther than some five meters from the players in the little Utzon Room, the clarity of their playing comes across very richly and unfiltered, sometimes even rawly, especially the tutti fortes which don’t so much have to reach you over so short a distance as instantly manifest as a tangible presence in your ears. The easy camaraderie and mutual understanding of the people can be heard and seen, especially in the precise but elastic way they play. Justin Williams’ instrument’s rich voice allows him a very vocal tone, but with a caring articulation of his parts which tempers the natural richness of the viola. Justin Chalabi’s playing is very appealing, playing with great beauty and intensity with an ear to and dependence on the clear chords or counterpoint underneath his phrases. The group seems to quiver between a state with four voices in one body and one voice of four parts, which makes their contrapuntal interpretation very satisfying to listen to. Lerida Delbridge plays with confidence and strong feeling, often with pointedness to her part, though never the least bitterness, but also giving a softened top to many of the group’s chords. Far more than these chords’ roots, Michelle Wood’s melodic sense complemented the group very well and her sensitivity to the group and the acoustic space was lifting rather than leadening, especially with her sharper, rattling attacks on the lower strings. Her bell-like pizzicato complemented Kristian Chong’s playing very nicely. Kristian Chong was also very sensitive to the acoustic, tempering his attack, which is quite bell-like anyway, to the room, and able to blend into the group nicely but with a definite fullness of sound and always much character. The definite quality to his interpretation, to his phrasing, with almost bird-like mellifluousness at times, made his more soloistic passages a pleasure and added to the depth of the ensemble playing.

About the author

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller lives in Sydney and writes mostly about music and theatre, especially ballet and opera.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Sydney, and once studied the piano and trombone.

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