30 April 2012
Once regarded as "the musical ravings of a deaf madman" the five string quartets included in the Beethoven! Revolution evening with the New Zealand String Quartet made for a passionate, varied performance at the Civic Theatre on Saturday.
A smaller, intimate crowd of all ages – two rows in front of me there was a skateboard parked beside one of the audience members – enjoyed the talent of Helene Pohl and Douglas Beilman, violin, Gillian Ansell, viola, and Rolf Gjelsten, cello.
String Quartet Op59 No1 began the evening with the light, elegant pluck of strings that gave way to the vicious and triumphant crescendo of the Allegro (lively) before descending into the tragic, sombre tones that ended with Theme russe – a Russian folk song about the hardships of life as a soldier.
Those who were new to classical music would have appreciated the half-time instruction by the quartet to listen to the "question" each piece provoked, and promised there was more to come after String Quartet Op95 Quartetto Serioso: "You thought you had heard lows and softs with this piece," Pohl said at its conclusion. "Just you wait."
Two hours later, the performance finished with the suspenseful Op59 No3 which rushed to its finale after dramatic pause.
Beethoven began to lose his hearing after his first six string quartets premiered in 1801, and was completely deaf and regarded by some as eccentric, and possibly mad by 1820. However, it was in the last years of his life that some of his most renowned work emerged. His final works were all string quartets, written between 1822 and 1826.
The Chamber Music New Zealand programme pointed out that above Beethoven's sketches for Opus 59 No3 – written in the summer of 1806 after finally finishing his opera Leonore – these lines were written on the pages: "Just as you plunge yourself here into the whirlpool of society, so in spite of all social obstacles it is possible for you to write opera. Your deafness shall be a secret no more, even where Art is involved."