Above: Composer Jennifer Higdon, whose string quartet ‘Southern Harmonies’ opened this concert by the Phoenix Quartet.
The Phoenix Collective in string quartet mode presented an engaging concert in the bright and true acoustic of Annandale’s Hunter Baillie Memorial Church. This new and hardworking ensemble present four programmes a year for string quartet, Baroque ensemble as well violin and piano, in locations from Canberra to the Central Coast.
This Sydney concert was a highly contrasted blend of styles from the late eighteenth century to now. All quartet members spoke in detailed and interesting commentary on each quartet presented. in each half of the concert were presented in a newer then older format. The concert’s first half consisted of the quartet ‘Southern Harmony’, then went back in time as the exquisitely balance group tackled the Haydn String Quartet in C Op 20 No 2.
Consistent with suchtime period contrasts, this landmark Haydn Quartet which cemented his new establish structure for the genre was preceded by the complex writing for quartet by Jennifer Higdon.
As in the rest of the concert, Phoenix Quartet members shone in individual lines and in group realisations of this intricate work’s combined expression of Southern states’ sentiment. A highlight was the central movement’s energetic dance feel based on fiddle music and characteristics of the reel.
Following the fresh and unmistakable flavour of this modern work from the USA, Phoenix Quartet delivered some very secure Haydn with regards to style, gesturing and the tracing of inimitable Haydnesque rhythmic and melodic trajectories. Balancing, emphasis and colouring of inner voices was always enjoyable here and the work’s treatment of all parts equally ended with effective flourish following a nicely voiced fugue.
A poignant and equally early foray into the string quartet genre from Shostakovich was a beautiful statement of stillness opening the concert’s second half. This quartet’s unified accompaniment block in support of the first violin part was an intense and effective split.
Individual part playing continued to be impressive during the fireworks of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet in D Op.11. This emotional powerhouse of a work, orchestral in construction, scope and sound world was performed with a satisfying depth of tone.
Arguably the most compelling work performed at this exciting and varied event, it left us wanting more chamber music works to explore from this composer. It remains a shame that Tchaikovsky’s decisions to work in this compositional direction came relatively rarely.
Phoenix Quartet’s huge ‘dig-right-in’ playing here comprehensively demonstrated the possibilities when a fine orchestrator and composer of large format music brings that energy down to the string quartet level.
Phoenix Quartet are : Dan Russell (violin), Yuhki Mayne (violin), Ella Brinch (viola) and Andy Wilson (cello). The Phoenix Collective’s 2020 Season has been announced, with two Phoenix Quartet concerts, a Baroque ensemble concert and one for violin and piano. Concerts take place across five locations, featuring music from over fourteen separate composers and audiences can attend Sydney concerts in Annandale or Mosman.