Jayakumar string quartet Bell Birds channels bush into Perth Concert Hall for Musica Viva & Darlington Quartet

David CusworthThe West Australian
Semra Lee-Smith, Zak Rowntree, Sally Boud, Jon Tooby and Graeme Gilling at Musica Viva’s recital at the Concert Hall.
Camera IconSemra Lee-Smith, Zak Rowntree, Sally Boud, Jon Tooby and Graeme Gilling at Musica Viva’s recital at the Concert Hall.

A five-minute glimpse of WA composer Emma Jayakumar’s string quartet Bell Birds formed the public premiere of a work that channelled the Australian bush into Perth Concert Hall for Musica Viva’s audience on Sunday night.

Commissioned by the ABC for the Darlington Quartet, the third movement of the work, Lento sognando, takes the middle stanza of Henry Kendall’s 1869 poem with a timely theme:

October, the maiden of bright yellow tresses,

Loiters for love in these cool wildernesses;

Loiters, knee-deep, in the grasses, to listen,

Where dripping rocks gleam and the leafy pools glisten:

Then is the time when the water-moons splendid

Break with their gold, and are scattered or blended

Over the creeks, till the woodlands have warning

Of songs of the bell-bird and wings of the Morning.

Harmonics from Semra Lee Smith and Zak Rowntree on violin introduced a swooning melody across the ensemble, as if the stirrings of morning inspired an ethereal theme over pizzicato in Jon Tooby’s cello throwing to Sally Boud’s viola.

More tone poem than classic quartet, the stanza channelled the limitless longing that rural Australia evokes, doubling down in cello as though a rising tide of warmth triggered a dawn chorus in higher strings.

Subsiding, the initial swooning harmonics and pizzicato rhythm returned to fade inexorably to the heavens.

It was a sublime moment for which Jayakumar earned a well-deserved ovation.

Mozart’s “Spring” Quartet, No. 14 in G major, opened the bill with delicacy from the start in warm tones, communication across the group clear in phrasing and the rise and fall of dynamics for the first movement, Allegro vivace assai, bringing out the balanced composition of this homage to Haydn.

Languor in the Menuetto second stanza recalled the stately origins of the measure; delicate in phrasing and dynamics, yet dramatic in strident figures, but subsiding back to the dance.

Deep bell tones in cello underpinned sonorous meditation by violins and viola in the Andante cantabile third movement; evolving to shared melodic development, deftly handled, especially a finely judged cadence.

A canon-like opening to the Molto allegro finale introduced surging energy, robust rhythm and rich harmony in another nod to the creative explosion of spring.

After the Jayakumar, American Amy Beach’s 1907 Piano Quintet introduced Graeme Gilling at the keyboard, atmospheric chords in strings leading in rumbling arpeggios from piano in a distinctively late Romantic mode from the pioneering female composer.

Piano became every more energetic as strings kept a reserved distance, tellingly so for a piece written by a pianist.

The Adagio espressivo second stanza opened again in strings, introducing a grandiloquent piano solo echoing the Europeans of Beach’s era but with a gentler tone in the quartet to temper the melodrama.

In the finale, Allegro agitato unleashed a full palette of Romantic distemper across keyboard and strings; cooling to a poignant viola theme in Adagio come prima, picked up in violin over rolling piano.

Finally, Presto unveiled darker tones in piano and a vigorous conclusion.

Musica Viva’s next concert features Sartory String Quartet and pianist Shuan Hern Lee, on November 8, 7.30pm, at the Concert Hall. www.musicaviva.com.au.

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