To launch their 70th anniversary season, the Sydney Mozart Society invited Flinders Quartet and special guest clarinet player Lloyd Van’t Hoff to perform a piece from Mozart and one from each of his composer contemporaries Schubert and Beethoven.
Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet No. 12” opens in a frenzy with all strings racing until the pretty violin playing from Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba reigns the quartet in. Throughout the short, energetic piece they stray between the pretty and the frenzied with the cello, played by Zoe Knighton, reintroducing tension for the others to pick up. As an introductory piece, this one demonstrated the Quartet’s individual and collective playing styles with Pavlovic-Hobba and Helen Ireland on viola playing with a cool, collected demeanour and Knighton and Wilma Smith on violin playing more theatrically. Together the Quartet are clearly a passionate and precise group that give exquisite clarity to each piece performed.
For the second piece, the Quartet welcomed Lloyd Van’t Hoff to the stage. With his smooth and upright manner, Van’t Hoff’s playing resembled the enchantment of a snake charmer, or perhaps someone less rascally. “Quintet in A for clarinet and two violins, viola, and cello” composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is in four movements, each showing off the playfulness of the clarinet with various dynamics with the strings. In the first movement, the clarinet seems to egg the strings on with its frolicking freedom which then turns into a hopping jig-like rhythm in the third movement. The quintet surges and retracts like dancers responding to the magical pull of Van’t Hoff’s playing. In the fourth movement, the tone takes a turn for the dramatic with Pavlovic-Hobba’s violin and the clarinet developing a delicate call and response relationship before ending on the light and happy feeling of the opening.
In customary Beethoven style, the second half performance of “String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat major, Op. 130” was much more grandiose and dramatic than the first two pieces. The opening movement begins with a low, mournful tone that is repeatedly cut through with racing sequences that create an unstable atmosphere with rapid and unexpected changes. In the third movement the piece takes on a more cohesive and consistent rhythm before becoming nearly up-beat in the fourth movement with the violin nearly rollicking in comparison to the earlier movements. It’s in the fifth movement that Smith’s violin and Ireland’s viola come to the fore, filling the middle distance between Pavlovic-Hobba and Knighton with a richer sound. But that is quickly dashed away in the final movement with the return of the short, choppy notes and a gradual intensification in the high register of the violins before the climactic end.
Considering the three great composers’ regard for each other as contemporaries and friends, it’s a treat to hear them played together in concert to discern the similarities and differences between each’s style. Particularly when played with the skill of Flinders Quartet and Lloyd Van’t Hoff, what an excellent start to a year of celebration.
Flinders Quartet played at the Concourse’s Concert Hall on February 28th