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Beethoven; Prokofiev; Shostakovich; Sculthorpe

Prokofiev: String Quartet No 1

Shostakovich: String Quartet No 1

Beethoven: String Quartet in A minor Opus 132


Goldner String Quartet

Dene Olding, Dimiti Hall – violins; Irina Morozova – viola; Julian Smiles - cello

Wigmore Hall 24 Feb 2007

A fine recital from this young Australian group, starting with a Prokofiev performance of absolute “rightness,” both in balance and intonation. The Goldners played with relatively slow tempi, resulting in a wonderfully arresting opening perfectly meshing the melody and the syncopated chords underneath set the mood and scene just right. The more relaxed passages nicely countered the opening theme's jagged rhythms. The scherzo had all the point and bitter-sweetness so characteristic of much of Prokofiev's music and was played with demonic fervour. In the final gentle andante. The Goldners well contrasted and conveyed this bleak piece of typically Russian atmospheric writing.


Superficially serene and innocent, Shostakovich's charming and lyrical first quartet betrays nothing of the composer's human travails with Stalin's regime. Or not? As the underlying depth of the Goldners' playing suggested, perhaps it is time we began listening Shostakovich in the same way as we nowadays listen to Schubert who asked: “ Is there any happy music?”

After the interval, the Beethoven received a performance of sublime homogeneity, faithful in particular to the tempo markings, but also to its soaring, searing emotions. My benchmarks for this work are the Aeolians live (many years ago!) and the Quartetto Italiano on record, but this performance was every bit as convincing, never rushed or over-projected, always exactly in what I imagine is the spirit of the composer. As in the first half, the Goldners never put display or show above depth. Beethoven, who attained a true other world in these works, would surely have been pleased.

Though the Quartet conceded that any encore after the Beethoven would be almost sacrilegious, they gave a movement from the modernist eighth quartet of the performers' compatriot Peter Sculthorpe to conclude an excellent evening.  

Dennis Day

Peter Sculthorpe

String Quartets Nos 14 - 17

Goldner String Quartet

Tall Poppies TP206

Somewhat belatedly, one of the Goldner String Quartet's Sculthorpe series, celebrating Peter Sculthorpe's 80th birthday last month, has been received for review. It comprises the the prolific composer's last four quartets (1998-2007) of the seventeen to date (two more are commissioned).

All of them have a strong basis in his pursuit of 'an identifiably Australian idiom'; in 1967 he said "I never want to hear another note of Beethoven in my life!". However, No. 17 is based, quite transparently and openly, on the famous "Must it be? It must be!" motif from Op. 95, and makes a good culmination to this album. The others have more exoticisms, reflecting Tasmania's landscape and history, e.g. songs from Western New Guinea in No. 15 etc (No. 8 - of which a movement was given in the Goldners' 2007 Wigmore Hall recital reviewed above is Balinese-inspired).

This is a terrific sequence which we played right through with consistent interest and pleasure. I remember enjoying Sculthorpe's music several decades ago, but he is not often heard in UK now. I would think that the full cycle of his quartets to be given by the Goldners would be welcome in London, rather akin to my like recommendation of Murray Schafer's seven.

String Quartets Vol 1, Nos 6-9

Irkanda IV Small Town String Quartet No. 6 String Quartet No. 7 String Quartet No. 8 String Quartet No. 9

Tall Poppies - TP089

Received after Peter Sculthorpe's residency - and the Goldner Quartet's - at the City of London Festival 2011, most of the earlier quartets have been included in this compilation and enjoyed.

Two unnumbered works arranged for string quartet precede the numbered Nos 6 - 9. They are distiguished by Sculthorpe's rejection of "development" in its classical connotations and determination to "purge the European heroic gesture" from his music.

The first seventeen of Sculthorpe's quartets are available in well presented Tall Poppies releases, each with expansive analytic essays and evocative cover images of paintings by his "friend and mentor" Russell Drysdale.

Easy to enjoy, and far from naive, this is an oeuvre meriting wide recognition and performance.

Peter Grahame Woolf