Carl Vine String Quartets

Goldner String Quartet
Classical, New Music
ABC Classics 4765168
Reviewed by , April 1st, 2014

 Carl Vine probably does not consider himself a romantic composer, but in a definitively Australian contemporary way, he certainly is, traversing the gamut of emotions as he does, often in the one piece.

The full palette of Vine’s technical prowess and emotional intensity is on show on this album, the works stunningly interpreted by the Goldner String Quartet. Indeed one cannot imagine these pieces in finer hands. String Quartet No. 5 was commissioned for them and it is a most uplifting piece. Revered string ensembles are made up of individual virtuosos and, of course, Dene Olding, Dimity Hall, violist Irina Morozova and cellist Julian Smiles are this. But one can always hear when a group also knows each other so well that their combined interpretation of works and selves is organic. This is the feel here. So when you have those sublime slow sections of which Vine is such a master, such as in the String Quartet No. 3, every note is cherished and every note is placed with reverence. The juxtaposition of instruments, the respect of the players for each other as different members assume melodic dominance and the composition itself are all life-affirming.

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Vine does ‘menacing’ well too, and again, the technical skill required for a group to carry this feel of the third section is displayed splendidly. It’s like Stravinsky on speed. How this Quartet manages to resolve into such a positive, almost comic ending is hard to grasp.

The second Quartet is reminiscent in its opening section of some of Reich’s work with its emphasis on minimalist patterns, but unlike Reich, it never dwells in the same place for long; there is always a small narrative to be played out. Indeed the whole of this composition feels like a journey, ‘trainesque’ in its use of overlaid longer and shorter patterns, its contrasting dynamics and tempos and its sense of end-of-journey optimism. The pizzicato work is incredibly effective in creating rich textural contrasts. And the rhythm that emerges from the overlays is driven and intoxicating.

String Quartet No. 4 was commissioned of Vine to honour his fiftieth birthday. There are few party hats on display however, with mainly a balance between angst and sadness, Olding squeezing every drop of melancholy out of the poignant melodic sections. The strong rhythmic parts build with increasing aggression until there is no adrenaline left and again we find ourselves in a depressed place. The precision required of the group to perform this work with such insight cannot be underestimated. There is a beautiful sense of resignation in the ending.

The simplicity of the opening of the fifth Quartet with all playing an almost twelve tone melody evolves into an array of complex patterns gradually leading into another beautiful and truly romantic slow sequence. The pizzicato section with melodic overlay and incredible use of harmonics is also a feature of this work which is nuanced in its meaning.

The complexity of Vine’s writing, his attention to detail in addition to the affectivity of his works is what makes him one of Australia’s most revered composers. These interpretations are masterful in the hands of the Goldner Quartet.

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