Album Review: Acacia Quartet: Mozart Dvorak Chance/ Move Records

CD Review: Acacia Quartet: Mozart Dvorak Chance/ Acacia Quartet/ Move Records

Lisa Stewart and Myee Clohessy · violins/ Stefan Duwe · viola/ Anna Martin-Scrase · cello

Acacia Quartet’s latest recording, Acacia Quartet: Mozart Dvorak Chance released on the Move label is a charming trio of diverse string quartets, expertly played and interpreted. Named after the composers it features, Mozart, Dvořák, and Australian composer Alice Chance, the music spans three different eras, continents and aesthetics. 

Opening with Mozart’s String Quartet no 15 in D minor, K421, the quartet creates a bittersweet mood in the first movement Allegro moderato in the minor key, swiftly moving to the brighter second subject with beautifully light but athletic ornamentation. The ensemble colours the second movement with darker shades and graces the third movement minuet with elegant phrasing. The fourth movement charms with a theme and variations. It is democratic writing by Mozart with each instrument given a voice as melodies rise and accompaniments recede. There is interest in the imitative passages and the ensemble engages with classical restraint and understated passion.  

Contemporary Australian composer Alice Chance’s String Quartet No. 2: “Sundried” was premiered by the Acacia Quartet themselves at Bowral in New South Wales in 2019. Acacia Quartet showcases Chance’s writing and the possibilities of the stringed instruments. It is a piece which interestingly, attempts to express tactile and taste sensations in sound, with innovative acoustic effects. The first movement Exposure paints the shimmering heat of the desert. In the liner notes, Chance, who is a synaesthaete, says “Stillness and transparency are portrayed by diaphanous light sounds with glinting harmonics, intervals of fourths and fifths, occasionally disorienting additive metres.” The second movement Dribble Castle, played pizzicato, is enlivened with syncopated ascending rhythms and playful tempi. Languid, jazzy motifs underly the third movement, Tomatoes. If the squelchy pleasure of plucking and eating tomatoes had a soundtrack, it surely would be this cameo. Aloe Vera the fourth movement presents a lyrical theme built over a repeating bass line, intended as the “soothing, mentholic antidote to the heat of the sun – the antithesis of the first movement.”

The style of Aloe Vera is an apt segue into the perennial beauty of Dvořák’s String Quartet in F major “American” which gathers the melodic patterns, harmonies and rhythms expressing the quintessential feel of the New World. The players are more liberal with their use of vibrato and  draw on a richer romantic sound to express a distinctly American pastoral feel. This string quartet was written during Dvořák’s American sojourn where he was serving as director of the National Conservatory in New York City. He was on a summer holiday in Spillville amongst the Czech community and very much at ease when he composed this gem.

It is said that whilst in America, Dvořák had the opportunity to break out of European traditions, playing with structures, themes and sounds, even replicating the call of the scarlet tanager, a bird native to Spillville, the drive of a steam train and Indigienous American rhythms. Acacia Quartet plays with verve and there is sense of nostalgia in its interpretation of these aesthetics. The duet between the first violin and cello in the second movement Lento is especially poignant, the first violin played with a sweet lyricism contrasted with the mellow richness of the cello. The last movement is the icing on the cake, expressing all the energy, fun and optimism of the new continent.

Established eleven years ago, Acacia Quartet recently bade farewell to founding second violinist Myee Clohessy. Acacia Quartet: Mozart Dvorak Chance marks the experience and synergy of this lengthy performing partnership, demonstrating a unity of purpose, well balanced tone, an understanding of the thematic material and the ability to express it. Lovely music for a salon.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©


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