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NZ William Dart: Players with strong views

Property Here - Saturday, September 28, 2013

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New Gareth Farr piece in group's repertoire, writes William Dart
Australia's Goldner String Quartet is on tour around the North Island.
Australia's Goldner String Quartet is on tour around the North Island.

The Goldner String Quartet is already in the country on its Chamber Music New Zealand tour.

Cellist Julian Smiles is looking forward to crossing Cook Strait and playing in some of our North Island venues, including Napier's just-opened MTG Hawke's Bay.

Just last Sunday, the Australians gave a concert in Christchurch's Cardboard Cathedral; the experience of a post-quake Garden City was sobering. "We had a quiet look around and realised more than ever what a terrible time it's been here," says Smiles. "But the people are moving on."

Talking to this man, you realise that he and his colleagues are nothing if not pragmatic. They are survivors, having been together since 1991, initially in the Australia Ensemble and, for the last 19 years, as the Goldner String Quartet.

What of Richard Goldner (1908-1991), from whom the quartet took its name? The Romanian-born Australian was not only a violist, teacher and the founder of Musica Viva - Australia's equivalent to Chamber Music New Zealand - he was also an inventor.

"Probably his most famous invention was the zipper that the Australian forces used during World War II," Smiles says.

"He made a lot of money out of it and used that money to set up Musica Viva."

The Goldners have visited us on a number of occasions; next week, we can expect some lively, finely-tuned ensemble from them. They work at it. "We're four individuals with very strong views when it comes to musical ideas."

The players are not afraid to express themselves with some vehemence although, as Smiles puts it, "Forthright doesn't necessarily mean offensive. Our rehearsals are always fairly dynamic and sometimes guest artists are a little taken aback by what comes out in these sessions."

Smiles considers that the Piano Quintet is a perfect chamber music formation and the Goldners have put a series of such works on CD for Hyperion Records, ranging from Dvorak and Elgar to an imminent pairing of Taneyev and Arensky.

"It's a terrific medium," Smiles points out.

"We four can still operate as a string quartet within it, although we try very hard to make the pianist not feel like an outsider."

The four musicians are certainly comfortable with pianist Piers Lane. The five have worked together for almost a decade and, next week, Hamilton audiences will hear them in the Elgar Quintet while Aucklanders can enjoy Franck. "Piers is such a dynamic and compulsive musician," Smiles says. "There's a great excitement all the time and no two performances are ever the same."

Inevitably, talking to an Australian, composers from back home come up and the Goldners have had a particularly long association with Peter Sculthorpe.

The group has recorded most of Sculthorpe's 17 string quartets and, for Smiles, "He captures the Australian landscape in all its immensity and age; you can hear the heat and dryness."

He often feels homesick when the group includes Sculthorpe on tour, but that won't be happening here, as the Goldners are playing a new commission from Kiwi composer Gareth Farr titled Te Tai-O-Rehua.

"Gareth told us that was going to be a happy piece, a celebration of the camaraderie between our two countries," Smiles explains. "But it came out differently. It's a turbulent, disturbed piece; he realised it was about the Tasman Sea and the waters that divide us."

Farr's new work is included in all programmes, with different companions for Hamilton (Schubert and Elgar) and Auckland (Mendelssohn and Franck).

Thanks to Radio New Zealand Concert, Aucklanders can preview the Farr, played alongside Schubert and Elgar, when the group's Wellington concert is broadcast live on Monday evening.