The three emphatic C sharp major chords at the end of Beethoven's String Quartet in C sharp minor, opus 131, are the last Sydney shall hear from the Tokyo Quartet in live performance.
Since their first tour in 1980, attentive audiences, good halls and fine wine (not necessarily in that order, as Musica Viva's Mary Jo Capps noted in a thank-you speech) have brought them back a further five times.
Yet despite the palpable sense of valediction in the near unanimous standing ovation at the end, in one sense this was like any other Tokyo Quartet concert: the focus was always the music, only the music.
It was interesting to hear Peter Sculthorpe's String Quartet No. 16 played before Bartok's Sixth Quartet. Although early critics saw Bartok's influence on Sculthorpe, their approaches are worlds apart.
Bartok's is a tightly integrated musical language with an eye on classic formal perfection; Sculthorpe has an easier narrative, like a conversation on a walkabout. Both works begin with a contemplative melody: Sculthorpe's (on the violin with birdsong sounds from the cello) expressing the loneliness of refugees; Bartok's (on the viola, in an idea that recurs), anticipating his own loneliness as a refugee, for he was shortly to leave Europe for the US.
It is as though Bartok set out to write a slow movement four times, and was sidetracked by his fantastical imagination on the first three attempts, succeeding only in the fourth. Immaculate in textural clarity and musical thought, the Tokyo Quartet displayed superb economy of expressive utterance, with no inessential emphasis, and no subtlety of nuance omitted.
The same was true of their performance of Beethoven's Opus 131 after interval (the shared importance of the essential and only the essential unites Beethoven's and Bartok's quartets).
Over its connected seven movements, the Toyko Quartet built an expressive arc anchored in the opening fugue, the variations (fourth movement) and the finale, without a hint of slackening in the connecting spans.
A magical farewell to a group to whom we owe both profound thanks and best wishes.