Concert Review: Enigmatic/ Enigma Ensemble

Enigma Quartet
Enigma Quartet

Enigmatic, The Enigma Quartet

Independent Theatre, North Sydney

May 21, 2017

Written by Victoria Watson

This ensemble of stylish and accomplished musicians has been playing together for a number of years. For this concert, core quartet members violinists Marianne Broadfoot and Kerry Martin along with cellist Rowena Macneish, were joined by guest viola player Liz Woolnough. They share broad and impressive experience playing with the Sydney Symphony, Australian Chamber and Opera Australia orchestras.

The programme started with Mozart’s Quartet no.17 (The Hunt). Written two years before his great comic opera Le nozze di Figaro, it similarly balances exuberant joy with classical restraint and formal structure.

The members of Enigma relished the playfulness of the faster movements, and they approached the score with a fullness of tone and generous rubato. In the introspective third movement, they achieved a transcendent synergy through an intimate ensemble connection. This made the last boisterous movement all the more effective as the fugal subject bounced from one instrument to the other like a capricious game.

After a generous interval for afternoon tea, the quartet returned for a series of favourite encore pieces from their repertoire. Some were arrangements of piano or orchestral works, or of beloved violin solos, and while the audience enjoyed the accessibility and familiarity of the melodies, the idea of combining eleven largely unrelated pieces into a bracket was not wholly successful. It was engaging to have the performers introduce the works, but there was a missed opportunity to provide more insights and personal reflections to take the audience on a narrative journey.

The arrangements of Kreisler fitted the group well, and the setting of the luminous Méditation by Massenet was a highlight. The most striking and lush of the arranged piano scores was Debussy’s prelude La fille aux cheveux de lin. Following this was a less satisfying reading of Satie’s Gymnopédie no.1 – although a favourite on piano, the balance and pitching on strings suffered from the sparseness of the harmonic texture.

Earlier, the viola had taken a beautiful solo in Schumann’s Träumerei – a piano adaptation that was delightful, played with a simple beauty and line that avoided sentiment.

There is a beautifully balanced sound and warmth of timbre across the ensemble, and they are graceful and elegant to watch. Enigma’s upcoming November concert will feature commissioned works based on the five Japanese elements, performed with Shakuhachi flute, and promise to be delightfully mysterious and enigmatic – one not to miss!

Victoria Watson for SoundsLikeSydney©

Victoria Watson is a graduate of Melbourne university and VCA. She has appeared regularly as a soprano with the Victoria State Opera and has toured and served as artistic director of many chamber ensembles.

She has performed with Sydney Symphony Orchestra and for ten years, was artistic director of a major opera education project with Opera Australia. Since 2015 she has moved into directing opera including Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte at the Independent theatre.

Victoria has lectured in voice at the major universities in Melbourne, and is currently a tutor at UNSW. Having taught at major Sydney secondary colleges, she now runs a busy private singing studio. She is a published author on opera and a popular freelance music and theatre lecturer and advocate for Australian artists around the world.

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