VIAF 2014

A very promising young quartet …

Yesterday evening’s concert, featuring Dalton Quartet from Linz, was held at St Augustine Church. The change of scheduled venue was due to the extensive road works being carried out at Cittadella at the moment, which made access to the venue impossible.

Dalton Quartet are this year’s winners of Prima la musica, which is Upper Austria’s Music Competition for Youths. This is the tenth consecutive time that Upper Austria has sent talented young musicians to perform in our Festival – which is part of the prize they get for winning their National Competition.

The concert started with one of Schubert’s Quartets, namely, Quartet in C Minor no. 12 D703, better known as the Quartettsatz simply because it is a one-movement work. Schubert is Schubert – by this I mean that he sings his way through his works. The singing voice is the predominant feature in his writing and it is one that never fails to enthral and excite. The Quartet exhibited a very good rapport between them.  Comprised of Sebastian Gogl (1st violin), Pablo Guijarro (2nd violin), Nebojsa Bekcic (viola) and Marlene Duschlbauer (violoncello), this young ensemble played with maturity and confidence and thoroughly understood the formal and technical details implied in it. This work shares something besides its unfinished status with the famous B minor ‘Unfinished’ Symphony: an introduction built of fluttering, insecure string figurations. In the Symphony, these are hesitant and mysterious; in the ‘Quartettsatz’ they boil with passion, beginning pianissimo with the solo first violin and then swelling to a massive fortissimo climax. In many ways, the rest of the piece is a series of similar swells from one dynamic extreme to another – the performance by the Dalton Quartet made the music pulsate with gritty passion, nervous fury, and soaring ecstasy, and, appropriately, little room was made for more temperate gestures.

Next came four solos by the respective members of the Dalton Quartet. First was cellist Marlene Duschlbauer who performed one of Bach’s best-known pieces for violoncello solo, namely, the Prelude from Suite no. 3 in C Major BWV1009. Playing with an assured poise and a calm serenity, the music flowed seamlessly and echoed beautifully in the lovely environs of the church. There seemed to be no problem with double stoppings, sensitive phrasing and pitch – it appeared second nature to the performer. Following the Bach piece was Pablo Guijarro performing one of Paganini’s devilish Capriccios, namely, no. 16, an exercise in pyrotechnical acrobatics, frenetic runs and stark articulation. Pablo performed with precision, accuracy and mastery, a piece that is not exactly for the faint-hearted!

Leading violinist Sebastian Gogl played E. Ysaÿe’s Allemande – Lento maestoso from Sonata in E Minor op. 27 no. 4 (Fritz Kreisler). A mature work, which nakedly exposes the violin with regard to technical prowess and dynamic control, this 4th Sonata out of a group of six, most immediately suggests Bach’s influence. This is even evident in the titles of its three movements, the first two being taken from the traditional nomenclature of a Baroque suite. The opening Allemande, which was the movement performed during this concert, is marked Lento maestoso, and contains noble, austere themes deployed against a backdrop of rich, multiple-stopped chording. The violinist performed admirably, bringing out the nuances in the harmonies deployed by the composer and also understanding the polyphonic texture of the piece. In fact, so advanced is the polyphony that the music often conveys to the listener the illusion of full harmonization.

Last but not least was the turn of the very talented violist, who performed Vieuxtemp’s well-known Capriccio in C minor op. 55 (Hommage à Paganini). Nebojsa has a wonderfully lush, exotic and sensuous tone on the viola and this was brought to full effect in this very beautiful piece, which he tackled with a mature understanding and technical virtuosity. A lovely performance, indeed!

The Quartet came together for the last lengthy piece, which was a four-movement work by contemporary South African composer Shane Woodborne. Making use of most technical and stylistic difficulties known to string players, to include pizzicato, col legno, etc, the ensemble made the move from the traditional to the contemporary, from the canonical to the more exotic in a seamless and relaxed manner. Despite their very obvious talents as solo performers, they inter-relate and come together as a very well-knit and co-ordinated group.  Last of ebb, and daylight, which was Woodborne’s piece, alternated between the fast and rhythmic to the slower and lyrical. It is largely a programmatic work without telling a definite narrative on the way – pictorial and impressionistic in texture, mood and tone. It was a very fitting ending to a truly wonderful concert.

After resounding applause, Dalton Quartet conceded a lovely encore in the form of a vibrant Tango, which is the sound track of the film Anagram.

The organizers of the Victoria International Arts Festival would like to thank the Augustinian community, most especially Fr Adeodato Schembri, for hosting us once again (and at such short notice) in their lovely church! Thank you!