Bowing out on a sad note

Peter Sculthorpe's Quartet No. 16 is a sonic response to the plight of refugees in detention centres in Australia.

By the most melancholy of coincidences, this searingly intense and disturbing work was performed by the Tokyo Quartet at a time when the bodies of drowned asylum seekers were - and still are - adrift in the waters of the Indian Ocean.

Under any circumstances, this is a profoundly moving work. But in view of events of the last few days, Sculthorpe's music assumed an even greater significance. And the focused intensity with which the Tokyo musicians essayed the work made for an unforgettably powerful experience.

I dare say that for many, if not most, in the audience on Monday evening, this would have been a bittersweet occasion as we listened to the Tokyo Quartet's final Perth concert.

And for those in the audience who were experiencing the ensemble's artistry for the first time and wondering how its playing compares with its performances of years ago, I can say that the Tokyo Quartet sounds untouched by the passage of time.

Its ability to pierce to the heart of whatever work it happens to be essaying is still as authoritative and meaningful as when I first listened to the ensemble in the 1970s.

Its account of Schubert's Quartet No. 15 was breathtakingly fine, its myriad nuances perfectly placed and as tonally ravishing as ever it has been over the decades.

As I listened in awe to Mozart's Hoffmeister Quartet, I marvelled at the sheer finesse that informed every note. It was a privilege to be present at an event such as this.

The Tokyo Quartet is retiring at the top of its game after 43 years. After its last performance at Yale University later this month, the players - Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda (violins), Kazuhide Isomura (viola) and Clive Greensmith (cello) - will return their priceless Stradivarius instruments to the Nippon Foundation in Japan.

Neville Cohn, The West Australian
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