Australian String Quartet return to Perth after pandemic pause, with Sara Macliver at St George’s Cathedral
Soprano Sara Macliver needed no introduction at St George’s Cathedral on Tuesday night; but Australian String Quartet were a different matter.
After five frustrated attempts over 18 months, ASQ finally made it back to Perth with a 50 per cent new line-up.
Violinists Dale Barltrop and Francesca Hiew are constants, joined now by violist Christopher Cartlidge and cellist Michael Dahlenburg on the 18th century Guadagnini instruments that unify the ASQ sound.
Their collaboration with Macliver in Vivaldi’s Nulla in mundo pax sincera (In this world there is no honest peace) was a telling choice for disrupted times.
Clear and effortless soprano filled the high-vaulted space, intoning the pious lament over sparse Baroque chords in a combination unchanged by centuries; music from a time before vaccines still a comfort to a complex era.
Continuo playing by the ensemble deftly offset the vocal passages, settling back to give Macliver clear air when she needed it; a nuanced partnership.
Mystery rustled in mournful chords for the recitative as vocal dexterity described the world’s convoluted state.
But human energy overcame spiritual anguish in the aria Spirat anguis, an almost folkloric tone drawing yet more colours from Macliver’s florid delivery.
The opening work, Mozart’s “Spring” Quartet, showcased the dynamic interplay between a group who only formed this combination three weeks ago.
Barltrop led the dance in the Menuetto second movement, followed by viola and cello, with drama in the G-minor trio exploiting both the fine acoustics and the deeper tones of the ASQ sound.
The same resonant bass supported violin in the Andante Cantabile, Dahlenberg echoing Barltrop’s solo line before a run through the register, also resonating in violin. Hiew chimed in sweetly and delicately before passing to Barltrop and back to Dahlenberg, earthy colours reflecting the rich setting.
Molto allegro in the finale broke the reverie with a flurry of overlaid melodic lines in a kaleidoscope of timbre and flair, milking the false ending for all its wit.
If Mozart channelled spring then Schumann enshrined love in his third and final string quartet dedicated to wife Clara.
Denser writing of the Romantic era drew more complex harmonies from the group; Cartlidge and Dahlenberg dancing close attendance on Barltrop’s syrupy theme, shared with Hiew.
In the Assai agitato second movement, lilting melody was almost feverish, rising and falling with a delicacy of expression across the group; brimming with energy as momentum built, returning to the opening swoon then back to torment; fading to close.
Adagio brought flourishes of colour underpinned by a persistent heartbeat, an impassioned line in viola taking the story forward before cello held centre stage with a mesmeric pizzicato figure over swirling bowed chords as prelude to a languid cadence.
Finally, Allegro molto vivace teemed with life in offbeat dance rhythms, a celebration in composition and delivery.
But they had to finish with Mcliver and Mozart; clarinettist Ashley Smith also joining the group for Parto, parto, from Clemenza di Tito, Smith’s velvet tones echoing Macliver’s soaring soprano, saving some of the most virtuosic passages until last.