The Melbourne based Penny Quartet have established an enviable reputation for the quality of their performances and their passion for exploring new and challenging compositions. The programs from the three or four concerts they have performed over the last decade in Ballarat have always included works which challenge and question the listener, balanced with traditional repertoire.
The concert in the Anglican Cathedral last Monday opened with Prokofiev's first string quartet, composed in 1931. The driving rhythms and short melodic phrases of the opening movement were full of energy. Similarly the scherzo-like second movement, with precision ensemble playing, kept the rapid journey going until the expansive final movement. The contrast of pace and broad melody was very well shaped, maintaining the intensity to the conclusion.
Joseph O'Connor's "Vignettes" has each of its four movements dedicated to a member of the quartet. It is a substantial composition built on short phrases. The commitment and virtuosity of the musicians gave the listener focus in unfamiliar territory while the communication and dialogue provided the work with shape and direction as each new idea unfolded.
Haydn's Op.76/3 string quartet completed the program. Even though the structure and language is traditional, the work is one of his last compositions for this genre, displaying sophistication and orchestration which would challenge the best ensembles. The refinement and elegance of the Penny Quartet's performance puts the ensemble in the upper echelons of chamber ensembles.