Double retirement brings the end for a great ensemble

Tokyo String Quartet's final Auckland concert drew a large, loyal audience to the Town Hall. The reward was superlative chamber music of a quality rarely savoured in our part of the world.

They set off with Mozart's Hoffmeister Quartet, their very evident affection for the work never compromising its essentially classical poise and structure.

The great violinist Jascha Heifetz once commented that Mozart's music should sound direct, the way a child is. The Tokyo players caught just this in an Allegro that glowed with a sense of discovery. Exquisitely nuanced phrasing was balanced with blushes of rubato and trimmings of a not-too-serious march.

The potent contribution of veterans Kikuei Ikeda and Kazuhide Isomura was evident from the start, their inner voices offering ballast and the occasional wry aside for the more theatrical first violin and cello of Martin Beaver and Clive Greensmith.

Mozart's great Adagio, allowed to breathe unrestricted, was daring in its fluid rhythms; the Minuet could have sprung from Schubert's Vienna and the musicians took to the finale's Haydnesque wit.

Isomura's viola set a tone of wistful melancholy for Bartok's Sixth Quartet, the first of many reflective passages in this autumnal score. Even more than in Mozart, the special bond of four Stradivarius instruments seemed to resonate anew.

Bartok's lampooning Burletta movement was all the funnier with such immaculate and well-honed playing.

After interval, Brahms' C minor Quartet was a symphony in all but name and, by the work's monumental finale, one felt that the very limits of 16 strings and four bows were being tested.

Individuals made their contribution felt too, particularly Beaver with his unerringly floating passagework in the first movement, and Isomura's unruffled, Zen-like counter-melody in the third. Here the mood was elegiac, broken only in a dancing trio, its irrepressible good humour caught in Beaver's mandolin-like chords.

The encore could not have been better chosen - we were totally exhilarated by the sweep of a Haydn minuet as well as by its pungent, rusticated trio.

William Dart, The New Zealand Herald
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