The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Goldner Quartet
Composer: Sculthorpe

The third volume of the Goldner Quartet’s traversal of pre-eminent Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe’s complete music for string quartet brings things right up to date, with four works from the last eleven years (two more quartets are in the pipeline, the booklet note promises). The music here is more direct and straightforward than the sometimes more abstract works of the earlier discs, and often has a story to tell.

The Quartet no.14 ‘Quamby’, for instance, is based around memories of Sculthorpe’s childhood in Tasmania, but also deals with the story of a massacre of native Tasmanians by settlers at Quamby Bluff. Quartet no.16 was inspired by the hopes, fears and anger of asylum seekers in Australia’s detention camps, in music ranging from a heart-rending Afghan love song (delivered eloquently by violinist Dene Olding) to some fiercely dissonant shrieks of despair. The Goldner players convey the drama of these works magnificently in playing that is committed, passionate and superbly controlled. Julian Smiles is particularly impressive in some of Quartet no.14’s rich, resonant cello lines.

However, it’s in Quartet no.17, a glowing homage to friendship based around the ‘Es muss sein?’ motto from Beethoven’s last quartet, that the ensemble really shines, demonstrating some radiant, expressive playing in music of great subtlety and depth. Recorded sound is clear and warm, although there’s a slight ambient hiss in the background throughout.

David Kettle