Concert Review: The Company We Keep/Acacia Quartet

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The Company We Keep,

Acacia Quartet,

The Australian Hall, Sydney

November 6, 2014

Stepping away from the peak hour bustle on Sydney’s Elizabeth Street, the hidden gem that is the Australian Hall hosted the Acacia Quartet’s programme The Company We Keep, featuring music by Gershwin, Glass, Kreisler and Brisbane born, Hollywood based composer Joe Twist.

It was an evening of revelations, with the four musicians – violinists Lisa Stewart and Myee Clohessy, violist Stefan Duwe and cellist Anna Martin-Scrase – performing little known string quartets by well known composers.

A soothing entree to the evening was the single-movement Lullaby for string quartet by George Gershwin. Composed in 1919, it sat in Ira Gershwin’s library till 1967 when it received its premiere in its original form by the Juilliard String Quartet. Lullaby has been transcribed for many configurations. Larry Adler adapted it for harmonica and string quartet for the 1963 Edinburgh Festival and later for harmonica and orchestra. Lullaby is a charming piece played con sordini in a slow ragtime. Syncopated beats and the ensemble’s strong and unified sense of rhythm created a sense of a gentle and comfortable ‘swing’. Skilfully executing Gershwin’s generous use of pizzicato and harmonics, Acacia took this cameo to a mesmerising and impossibly soft conclusion.

Philip Glass wrote 6 numbered string quartets and 5 that are either without number or which are suites for other purposes. This evening, Acacia performed Glass’ String Quartet No 2, completed in New York in 1983, seventeen years after his first string quartet.  This second string quartet was originally a piece of music for the play Company, based on Samuel Beckett’s novella of the same name. Containing the conventional four movements, Acacia’s performance was  unsentimental in its minimalist style and technically watertight with impeccable cohesiveness in the rapid and repeated rhythmic features that characterise Glass’ style. The slow third movement was introduced with a beautiful lyricism, then taken up by the first violin, ending with a sense of the incomplete before proceeding to the final movement.

Joe Twists’s Dancing with Somebody is a homage to Whitney Houston and contains references to many of her hit songs. Musically appealing, Twist used an abundance of devices including pizzicato, harmonics, glissandi, syncopation and percussive effects to create an entertaining piece which seemed as much fun to perform as it was to hear.

Finally, violin maestro Fritz Kreisler’s only string quartet, the String Quartet in a minor. Published in 1921, and written in four movements, the first movement, Fantasie opens with a dramatic and declamatory statement from the cello, quite unlike the light salon style expected of Kreisler’s music. The other strings join in and the music becomes sweet and lyrical. The second movement Scherzo/Allegro vivo/ con spirito, the third movement Einleitung und Romanze and the Finale, allegro molto moderato make a range of technical and emotional demands on the players which they accomplished with aplomb. The string quartet ends with a crashing descent as the cello re-introduces the theme from the first movement which the violins take up to bring the work to a muted close.

In 2015, the Acacia Quartet celebrates its 5th birthday. In just 5 years, the ensemble has garnered several award nominations, maintained a busy performance schedule, created a discography, and received wide exposure on the airwaves. The versatility and technical mastery they demonstrated both as individuals and as an ensemble in The Company We Keep is an impressive testament to their extraordinary talent.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©



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