Marian Poole, Piano Teacher and Music Critic.

Beethoven as “Revolution”

New Zealand String Quartet presented Beethoven! as “Revolution” at the Otago Girls’ High School Auditorium much to the delight of a full house. Beethoven’s String Quartet No 7 in F major Opus 59 No 1 and the String Quartet No 8 in E minor Opus 59 No 2, otherwise known as the “Russian Quartets” were given excellent interpretations and performed with wonderful commitment to exploring all dramatic potential from the notes.

Both quartets were dedicated to Beethoven’s patron Count Razumovsky, and make much of the composer’s ability to improvise upon Russian folk tunes and anthems. While a certain lack of deference is implicit, it is, none-the-less, a very genteel revolution. As a mark of the New Zealand String Quartet’s twenty-five years the performance is also a mark of their significant success.

Ten years ago they gave the cycle of Beethoven’s String Quartets to similarly great acclaim. Even though many of the audience have long memories the repeat of this experience was not unwelcome. However, it cannot be left unsaid that the celebration of twenty-five years in the classical music trade accruing an enviable reputation at home and overseas, that the New Zealand String Quartet might have showcased some of New Zealand’s own composers.

But never-mind, their presentation gave ample opportunity to believe that they re-invent the classical world’s hero, giving him more wit and sarcasm, soulfulness and flippancy than his reputation as a grumpy old soul would have one believe.

Presenting Beethoven as a revolutionary suggests two things: firstly that the ensemble expects its audience to be continually surprised by Beethoven’s innovations and secondly that having received a hero’s funeral, being revolutionary is something attributed to Beethoven on his reinvention from deaf madman to profound genius. The contemporary audience is well attuned to Beethoven’s mood swings, while the continued patronage of such people as Razumovsky suggests that being an aging “enfant terrible” has perennial attractions.