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Music review: Australian String Quartet excels on musical journey

Continuum
Australian String Quartet
Melbourne Recital Centre
March 13 

Aptly entitled Continuum, the opening concert of the Australian String Quartet's national season demonstrated why this particular chamber music form has engaged composers from the classical period to the present day.

Thanks to generous benefaction, the quartet plays on a set of Guadagnini instruments, fitted with gut strings for the concert's opening two works.

Hailing from the same period as the instruments Boccherini's Quartet in G minor, op 32 no 5 was full of grace and lithe, easy conversational interplay, with leader Kristian Winther taking a star turn in its fourth movement.

Brahms' quartet writing was the product of a mature and rigorous compositional process.

Requiring some minor aural recalibration, this performance of the Quartet No. 1 in C minor, op 51 on the early gut strings revealed a raft of new sonorities and nuances compared with more conventional steel strings.

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For the program's contemporary works the players turned to amplified cut-away electric instruments.

Windmill by Australian Stephen Whittington deftly evokes the sound of metal on metal in the outback and confines its single idea to an appropriate length.

The musicians fully embraced the performance challenges of George Crumb's response to the Vietnam War, Black Angels, which utilises an array of extended string techniques, vocalisations and doubling on percussion and carefully tuned wine glasses.

Sadly some of the audience's older demographic failed to return after interval, relinquishing the experience of a first-rate performance of a work that has rightly been deemed to be a modern classic.