Zoe Knighton, Cellist for the Flinders Quartet, asked the audience, ‘is it possible to identify a composer’s country of origin simply by the sounds they use?’ On a chilly Sunday afternoon we found out just that -natural surrounds permeate compositions. The Flinders Quartet Special Gala Concert featuring soloist Timo-Veikko Valve in the Winter Gala Series debuting at the Independent Theatre North Sydney, became our travel guide as we explored Australia, Spain, and Austria, in a showcase of Peter Sculthorpe, Boccherini, and Schubert.
Seated in the “American” quartet arrangement (cello on the ‘inside’ with viola facing the first violin) brought the group more homogeneously together. Both my plus one (a fellow violinist) and I were perplexed by the seating arrangement. However, it all made perfect sense once the performance began.
The unusual seating enabled the bass sound to reach the audience directly highlighting Sculthorpe’s low ‘C’, Boccherini’s compositional mastery and soloist Timo-Veikko Valve’s extraordinary skill.
Modern is typically not my preferred choice of chamber music, nonetheless, String Quartet No. 18, composed by the late Peter Sculthorpe and commissioned by Peter and Leila Doyle for Flinders Quartet is a heartfelt and raw expression of Sculthorpe’s concern about climate change where Australia is used as the metaphor. The piece is in five movements: ‘Prelude’; ‘A Land Singing’; ‘A Dying Land’; A Lost Land’; and ‘Postlude’.
The plight of our planet Earth is explored with sounds of insects, cries of birds, and desolate sounds. The patterns give rise to the somewhat impassioned thematic material of ‘A Dying Land.’ ‘A Lost Land’ is the emotional heart of the work. It is raw. Sculthorpe is not nihilistic in his approach- providing some solace and hope within this movement. The movements are founded upon a low ‘C’. In Sculthorpe’s music, a low ‘C’ always represents God.
Having bragged on a number of occasions that he has written more string quartets than Beethoven, Sculthorpe’s 18th is undoubtedly his most poignant. No wonder he commissioned this work for Flinders Quartet. It is their profound understanding of the music they play coupled with their accuracy, intense clarity, and unity as a quartet that makes for a brilliant performance.
Moving to Boccherini, there is no doubt that he was one of the finest virtuoso’s of his day, and arguably his instrument- the cello. Renowned for his quintet- a string quartet with added cello- Boccherini’s final movement the ‘Fandango’ epitomizes the skill of both cellists as they engage in a friendly face-off with displays of intricacy and exceptional skill. It’s fun to play and to listen to. Valve’s extraordinary technical command is really showcased in this piece. The principal Cello of the Australian Chamber Orchestra is truly outstanding. Every note resonating from his beautiful Guarneri instrument has deep emotional maturity and expression. Along with Zoe Knighton, the duo was incredibly in-sync and performed effortlessly as they playfully were vying for the more impressive movements. The clap of the castanets in the final movement sealed the Spanish inspired style.
After enjoying some light refreshments the audience settled in for the final performance of the evening. Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C major provided the perfect after tea mint. It is all encompassing- beautiful melodies, intense dynamics, a fugue, hypnotic rhythms, and a powerfully spirited end.
Flinders Quartet is a quartet for the twenty-first century. Providing a versatile, diverse, and full repertoire they’re esteemed by audience and critics alike. It is no wonder that they are instantly recognised as one of Australia’s most loved chamber music ensembles.
Not only did we enjoy the performance but were inspired to go home and practice!
SHANE CHEN violin
NICHOLAS WATERS violin
HELEN IRELAND viola
ZOE KNIGHTON cello
TIMO-VEIKKO VALVE guest cello
Antoinette Milienos is a Journalist, Freelance Writer, Violinist, and chronic sufferer of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
The venue is accessible.