Selby and Friends

Monday, 10. 13. 2008

Sydney Morning Herald — September 4, 2008

For those worried that the glorious heritage of European chamber music might have been starting to resemble the crumbling palaces of a bygone empire, the quality and number of new, young string quartets suggest it is premature to grieve (as Wordsworth put it) that even the shade of that which once was great has passed away.

Joining Kathryn Selby in her Friends series, the Parker Quartet from the United States is a welcome manifestation of this phenomenon. The players, in their mid-20s, play not only with the precision of intonation and ensemble which has become sine qua non for young groups (not always, alas, for older ones), but, more importantly, showed warmth and a sincere musical commitment and reverence.

To start, most in the audience listened to John Field’s Piano Quintet in A flat, H 34, with pleasure but without astonishment: the sound was warm but why shouldn’t it be in such a homely sentimental tune? The balance between this and the Chopinesque piano figuration from Selby was charming and quaint.

The performance of Gyorgy Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 2 (1968) reversed this for some, apparently bringing astonishment without pleasure, though on the whole the reception was strong. It was interesting to hear how well this high point of post-war avant-gardism had aged when played with this level of care. Far from sounding like dated experimentalism, the work kept tension alive through its textural inventiveness, and its tense dichotomy of still, sparsely spaced sounds, punctuated by explosive harshness which then decayed into scurrying murmurs.

Finishing the first half was a beautiful and tender performance of the slow movement of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet No.1, better known in its justly admired orchestral arrangement as the Adagio for Strings.

It was in Dvorak’s Piano Quintet, Opus 81, in the second half, however, that one started to know the individuals. Jessica Bodner on viola played the haunting second movement melody with beguiling simplicity and a glorious sound, while cellist Kee-Hyun Kim had a capacity to give the bass line direction, interest and tension, against which leader Daniel Chong and Karen Kim created a violin sound of incisive but coloured clarity.

Selby has chosen her friends well.

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