Orava String Quartet

On Saturday the 14th of June, inside the antiquely handsome setting of St Phillips Presbyterian Church on Watt Street, the Orava String Quartet were set to perform, with Daniel Kowalik on violin 1, David Dalseno on violin 2, Thomas Chawner on viola and Karol Kowalik on cello. They serenaded the intimate venue with the energy radiating from their confluence as a classical ensemble, a contributing trait to which they owe their repute as one of Australia’s finest string quartets.

They performed Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 in F minor Opus 95 ‘Serioso’, Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No 6 in F minor, Opus 80.

Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 in F minor Opus 95 ‘Serioso’

Starting with a fortissimo and a tightly in sync rhythmic passage as an exposition to this piece, Serioso set up the musical energy that was to carry right through the evening. Consisting of three movements, the piece wavers between boldly fierce dynamic attacks, rhythmic interplay and a thick fortissimo consistency to a much more subdued texture with lyrical melodies floating above a pleasing pianissimo harmonic accompaniment. Within this one piece, the quartet showcased their versatility as an ensemble by capturing lighthearted and melancholic moods, then shifting to sections of virtuosic rhythmic passages, contrapuntal melodies and climactic deceptive cadences. These traits not only require intense individual concentration but highly active musical dialogue within the ensemble, virtues of which echoed right across the acoustic space of the room.

Kilar’s Orawa

This piece, originally composed for string orchestra by Wojciech Kilar, opens with a lively presto passage of two melodic ideas that cycle for a substantial amount of time, with the quiet accompaniment slowly growing. Successively, the piece builds to a tumult of vibrant harmony and texture with developments of rhythmic ideas whilst sustaining the original ostinato through most of the piece. Through the excitable interplay of quickening rhythmic themes, along with the incorporations of glissandos, frequent recapitulations of the initial melodic idea and suspense created by chromatic runs in the accompaniment, it creates a jovial, thrilling and satisfying performance, to at last end spectacularly with a rhythmically unified ascending glissando. What was particularly enthusing about this performance was not only that it was a piece by a modern classical composer, but also the fact that it was an arrangement for a string quartet by the Orava members themselves.

Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No 6 in F minor, Opus 80

Arguably the most virtuosic piece on the program, this performance, consisting of four movements, thrusts straight into a prestissimo tempo with rapid passages of quick rhythms. It is highly tense, has frequent dynamic and textural surges and swapping of melodic functions between the instruments. Being a romantic piece, this performance not only for a high level of technical skill and communicative coordination between the group, but also intense emotional expression from each member and exchange of emotive suggestions. These were portrayed through subtle dynamic changes which grow organically to create light and shade of the various sentiments contained within the piece.

I had the pleasure of chatting to the quartet the afternoon before the concert, talking to them about their collective philosophy as an ensemble and how they strive to communicate this to a modern audience, as well as what they hope to offer to classical music in contemporary times.

“It’s about maintaining a connection to the music ourselves – if we engage with the music ourselves, we find that the response from the audience is always very positive and encouraging” says violist Thomas Chawner.

A shared sentiment from all the members was also that in times of social media, iTunes and YouTube, people are able to download and listen to music without attending a concert setting. As such, it is easy for people to forget the completely unique sensory experience that a live concert offers, be it the sound in the acoustic space, the close-up engagement the audience bears witness or the authenticity and impressiveness of the instrumental technicality in a live setting. These traits were offered to a high professional standard by the Orava Quartet during their own performance in Newcastle, be it through rhythmic tightness, melodic exchange of instruments, thickening of texture and sentimental gestures through emotionally dense musical items.

The Orava String quartet, through highly impressive and engaging performances, demonstrated their musicality, determination and professionalism as an ensemble on a night of musical exhilaration. The optimistic response from the audience provided much hope for the continuity for the classical music medium and the lasting effect that it can still have on a modern audience.

Orava will become the quartet-in-residence for the Camerata of St Johns in Brisbane from July 2014.

by Joseph Asquith

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