Business as usual for Australian String Quartet

The Australian String Quartet, with Blair Harris filling in on cello.

The Australian String Quartet, with Blair Harris filling in on cello.

MUSIC
SCHUBERT, LEDGER, SHOSTAKOVICH ★★★
Australian String Quartet, Melbourne Recital Centre, October 2

Replacing Sharon Grigoryan (on maternity leave) in these final national series recitals for 2018, Blair Harris took on the ASQ’s cello line. Often a solid presence in contemporary ensembles and currently principal with the Auckland Philharmonia, Harris melded in to the ASQ fabric with ease, if something approaching understatement during Monday night’s opening work, making a more individual presence in the second half.

Schubert’s Rosamunde String Quartet supports the popular impression of its composer as melancholy in temperament, with three lyrically superb if emotionally constrained movements before a more brisk, easygoing finale.

But this performance found expressive layers in both the restraint of the opening movement (Dale Barltrop’s first violin an eloquent strand) and the simple sweetness of the following Andante which stayed the right side of sentimental.

A new work by Perth composer James Ledger, his second quartet subtitled The Distortion Mirror, is a moderately interesting construct in which the players’ real-time sounds are fed into a computer and, well, distorted.

The results raise no eyebrows, chiefly because the sound manipulations follow comprehensible patterns: you can hear the relationship between actual and recorded sound without much effort. Ledger’s material tends towards sound blocks and group textures, ideal for mutation processes if not strikingly original.

The concluding work, like its companions, made few demands. Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 10 stood out for its heart-on-sleeve ardour, even in a driving, fierce second movement. Here, the ASQ gave a fine reading, unrolling skeins of lyricism with exemplary dedication and fluency.

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