Among the many fine Australian chamber music ensembles The Penny Quartet stand tall among the best. The concert at the Cathedral Church of Christ the King on Sunday revealed an exceptionally high quality of performance from four young string players associated with the Australian National Academy of Music.
The tightly linked yet eclectic program opened with the Australian premiere performance of “The Weaver’s Knot” of Liza Lim. The freedom of uncertain tonality and rhythm presented challenges for performers and audience, forcing one to think deeply about what the composer is saying. The quality of the playing raised the work from curiosity status to a genuine search for meaning.
Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for String Quartet” followed, with more accessible characteristics despite its deliberate tonal challenges. The almost folk music style of the first movement was well projected, the second movement seemed closer to “The Rite of Spring”, Stravinsky’s earlier orchestral masterpiece, and the quieter chorale-like third movement made a natural link to the baroque work next on the program.
Heinrich Franz von Biber was one of the first composers to bring forward a valid school of German violin works. The Italian influence over much of Europe was pervasive. Biber was quite adventurous for his time and even the more traditional “Sonata X1- Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum” in this concert fitted well in the company of the contemporary dissonance. The communication between the members of the Penny Quartet was evident in this refined reading, shaping the lyricism and keeping the balance perfect.
The final work was Beethoven’s Op.18/1 quartet. In many ways this was the most familiar sound on the program yet it is the creation of the composer who challenged the established order as much as any throughout the history of music. The rhythmic drive and grand gestures were manoeuvred with style while the expansive slow movement was given a true sense of poignancy. Individual skill was matched by the ensemble skill.
The performance of the traditional service of The Nine Lessons and Carols by the Cathedral choir, Vox, additional choristers and the Creswick Brass Ensemble on December 17, at 7pm, will be another grand musical experience at the cathedral.