Tokyo String Quartet

 

 

Perth Concert Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn

 

To listen to the Tokyo ensemble is akin to being ushered into the presence of musical demi-gods. These four superlative players have succeeded in subjugating their individuality in favour of a corporate music persona which, for decades, has enchanted audiences worldwide.

 

Tokyo String Quartet

Tokyo String Quartet

An account of Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A minor opus was a case in point, a glorious, flawless scaling of Olympus that left this listener groping for adjectives to convey the transcendental merit of the magnificent four.  

 

Most of this quartet is light years away from Mendelssohn’s trademark evocations of fairy fun. This is darker music by far, not least in the slow movement which was presented, with rich, organ-like sonorities, as a little miracle of profound expressiveness. Queen Victoria, a lifelong fan, once called Mendelssohn “a wonderful genius”. Could it have been this quartet which prompted that regal pat on the back?

 

Beethoven’s opus 95, his most compact utterance in chamber music, was given such superlative treatment as to be beyond criticism in the conventional sense. I dare say that had the shade of the notoriously tetchy composer hovered over the proceedings, it would surely have purred with pleasure. By even the most ferociously critical of standards, this, surely, was an interpretation that set the standard by which all other performances of the work would have to be judged.

 

Much the same could be said of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade in which the four musicians, like some Midas-clones, transformed everything they touched in this amiable work to musical gold. Certainly, in the hands of the four, even the most routine succession of notes was transformed into a compelling listening experience.

 

Carl Vine’s Quartet no 5 is a work of many moods, ranging from the bleak to the jaunty. Early on, the music is informed by a romantic ardour that calls Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night to mind. At every point, the writing is informed by an engaging immediacy. It was beautifully played by the Tokyo Quartet in a performance which brimmed with subtle nuances of tone and tempo. I imagine that any composer would give eye teeth to have their music performed by so superb an ensemble; it was one of the evening’s many highlights.

 

In so democratic an institution as a string quartet, it is perhaps invidious to single out an individual for special mention. But it would be ungracious not to particularly praise the artistry of violist extraordinaire Kazuhide Isomura.  In the hands of this veteran of countless concerts, the viola, that most treacherous of string instruments, did his bidding beautifully as it sang for its master with a rare purity of pitch and tone.


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