ENSO String Quartet with Michael Endres (piano).
Chamber Music New Zealand.
Speirs Centre, November 1.
Reviewed by Stephen Fisher.
Presenting nothing less than a programme of enormous variety and immense challenge, the ENSO String Quartet had already garnered much admiration from their audience by halftime, with a performance that could only be described as exquisite.
Opening with Haydn's Opus 20 No 2 - a work which marks the development of Haydn's style and technique - this performance revealed the composer's gift for melody and personal expression in a performance remarkably alive, vibrant and refreshing.
The Debussy String Quartet is a great work, with moments of urgency balanced by a deep sadness, the work concluding in a fit of sheer brilliance. The ENSO Quartet seemed thoroughly at home with it, responding magnificently to its full emotional intensity.
Gillian Whitehead's No stars, not even clouds, a Chamber Music New Zealand commission for this tour, opened the second half. It is a very personal work, drawing on birdsong while reflecting on the work of Juanita Ketchel, a writer and social historian. One found it difficult to resist the beauty of this work, again ably assisted by the performance.
The final work of the evening was Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor, where the quartet was joined by Michael Endres on the piano. While Endres personally matched the quality of musicianship we had already enjoyed throughout the evening, the same could not be said for the piano itself which lacked tone and sufficient strength to match the front line.
Shostakovich's music reflects an astonishing expressive range well highlighted by the quintet, allowing the audience to engage with the music in a way that only such a breathtaking live performance can allow.
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