Janáček & Székely

New Zealand String Quartet

Friday 24 March 2017, Adam Concert Room, Lunchtime Concert

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University Wellington

A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs

String Quartet No.1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’
– Leoš Janáček (1854–1928)
String Quartet  – Zoltán Székely (1903-2001)

Helene Pohl, violin
Monique Lapins, violin
Gillian Ansell
, viola
Rolf Gjelsten, cello


The quartet performed with a new format in this lunchtime concert. We are used to see the ensemble standing up (with a cello podium for Rolf so he can see eye to eye with the trio) but this time the were ‘in-the-round’. The quartet faced each other in the middle of the Adam Concert Room, and the audience were surrounding the players on the four sides of the building. It made for a much more intimate setting and the generous acoustics of the ACR supported the concept.

It made another difference too. The Janáček String Quartet No. 1  is a passionate work and the performers had to be homogeneous – a part of the whole body of the composition, not seperate individuals. It meant that the performers were totally focussed on themselves. The motifs sped around the players – from cello to violins to  viola, with octaves and bold chords, with brittle ponticelli chattering and ecstatic, anguished arguments. There were flaws – sometimes the outer parts were pushing too much, a rough note, or curtailed phrase – but that is the beauty of a live performance. The applause was genuine and extensive.

The NZSQ have a relationship to the Székely piece as the composer and violinist was an artist-in-residence at the Banff Center in Canada where the ensemble studied for a time. The piece, eight movements long, could have some editing, a tightening up – the middle movements dragged a bit – but the final movement made up for that. Modelled on the Hungarian Dances of his homeland it employed changes humorous change of metre and jazzy rhythms. Again, the standing stance of the players were advantageous – they fairly danced about the room.

The Janáček is a masterwork – very demanding, ardent, fervent, essentially operatic.  The Székely piece, despite it difficulties, was a much ‘lighter’ piece –  almost an oxymoron.

The combination was absolutely thrilling.


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