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7.9.08

Ionarts at Large: Notes from the ARD International Music Competition (Day 7)

The first round of the string quartet competition came to a close with the Tailem, Heath, and Verus String Quartets from Australia, the UK/South Africa, and Japan. Founded in 2002 and with an average of 26 years just a little younger than most of the other participants, the Tailem Quartet vacillated between exquisitely controlled (especially first violinist Rachel Homburg) and a few, rare timid slip-ups in the Beethoven’s op.18/1. Generally they exceeded at soft tones, although a triple-pianissimo (Andante) could have been much softer, still.

Notes from the ARD Intl. Music Competition:

Day 2:
Viola Competition, Round 1 (2)
(September 2)

Day 3:
Viola Competition, Round 1 (3)
(September 3)

Day 4:
Viola Competition, Round 1 (4)
(September 4)

Day 5:
String Quartet Competition, Round 1 (1)
(September 5)

Day 6:
String QuartetCompetition, Round 1 (2)
(September 6)

Day 7:
String QuartetCompetition, Round 1 (3) (September 7)

Day 8:
String QuartetCompetition, Round 2 (1) and Viola, Semi-Finals (September 8)

Day 9:
String QuartetCompetition, Round 2 (2) (September 9)

Day 10:
Viola, Final (September 10)

Day 11:
String Quartet, Semi-Finals (September 11)

Day 12:
Clarinet, Final (September 12)

Days 13 & 14:
String Quartet & Bassoon Finals (September 13 & 14)

There was so much to like here as well as in their Janáček’s Quartet No.1 (which also revealed just how impressively precise Apollon Musagetes from the night before really were), and yet it always felt as if they were playing right at the limit of their capacity, as if a small turn of events might reveal that they sound better than they actually are.

The Heath Quartet opted for Haydn op.76/5, which was filled with life, once they found their way into it -- which they certainly had, by the time the finale came around. More fun in the playing would not have hurt, or more precise intonation from the first violin (Oliver Heath) here and there, but sufficient zest for Haydn was present, at least. The Janáček, with extraordinarily violent sul ponticello interruptions from the viola (Gary Pomeroy), sounded pretty good in direct comparison to their Australian colleagues, but still not up to what the Polish quartet had achieved. (A random thought occurred: Heath Quartet being such a frightfully boring and unoriginal name, why not call themselves “The Heaves & Pomerray Quartet” which would be eccentric in a neatly British way, democratically incorporating the names of the violist Pomeroy, second violin Rebecca Eves, and cellist Christopher Murray.)

Finally, the four young gentlemen from Japan who form the Verus String Quartet plowed into Beethoven op.18/4 with great forward momentum and tight pressure from the first note. A very fine, detailed quartet sound from these players (only occasionally a bit of chirping form the first violin) who struck me as mature beyond their years.

Janáček’s quartet, with very pointed accentuations, was presented as music all cut from one cloth, despite its constant changes of meter. Their clear yet resonant sound benefited the modern-romantic Czech work as much as the classical Beethoven; their last movement of the former approaching this rounds highest standard in Janáček.

With the end of the first round of string quartets, there was a sense of ‘mission accomplished’ for this Sunday, but since I had not made it to hear any of the bassoonists Saturday night, there was some catching up and atuoning to do. At Studio 2 there was plenty opportunity as the first round of the bassoon competition went on until almost 8pm at night. I listened to three of them: Daniel Mohrmann and Christian Kunert from Germany and Ji-Myung Cho from Korea.

What can the bassoon-inexperienced ear ascertain from one, two, or three short bassoon recitals without the (dubious) advantage of having heard a substantial number of the 40 participants for comparison's sake? Only that the players get the notes right (or not), or not produce excessive hiss (or do), or don’t exhibit undue squeaking (or squeak). And that bassoonists are a decidedly more casual bunch than violists, for example. Jeans are part of the uniform; quite unthinkable with their string-colleagues.

Mohmann displayed those virtues in the Carl Maria von Weber, though one could not listen to it without imagining at least the possibility of a still cleaner sound in the undoubtedly challenging fast passages. The Dutilleux Sarabande et Cortége for bassoon and piano was a surprisingly beautiful, elegiac piece – but what to think of a work that may have been composed for no other realistic purpose than to serve as a mandatory conservatory admission hurdle or competition showcase (or variously stumbling block)?

Ji-Myung Cho also played the Dutilleux, with an even more lamenting tone. But her Bernhard Crusell Airs Suédois – a lesser and less challenging sounding work than the Weber – wastedious to ears that have not yet entirely warmed up to the bassoon outside its orchestral home environment. Christian Kunert nearly changed that. In front of the surprisingly large audience (nearly 100 people in Studio 2 for this first round), he produced scarcely any extra air in the very nicely played Weber, and then exploited Villa-Lobos’ Ciranda da sete notas for all its potential to show off an even and steady tone, beautiful throughout the entire register. That's bassoon one wants to listen to. And a good teaser for the bassoon semi-finals which is likely the next time I’ll hear the experts on this endearing but silly, elephantine instrument.


Results from day 6 and day 7:Lilli Maijala (Finland), Wen Xiao Zheng (China), Dimitri Murrath (Belgium), and Teng Li (China) are in the semi final for violin. Marcos Peréz Miranda is among the 15 clarinetists who made it into the second round, and all my favorite string quartets, except the EnAccord (of Schulhoff Quartet distinction) made it into the second round, as did the Amaryllis Quartett which I didn’t like but knew I underestimated. They will begin their next round tomorrow morning at 11am.




Recommended recordings of the string quartets played so far:



available at AmazonBeethoven,
String Quartet op.18/1, Takács Quartet


available at AmazonJanáček,
String Quartet No.1, Pražák Quartet
available at AmazonHaydn, String Quartet op.76/5, Quatuor Mosaïques

available at ArkivBeethoven,
String Quartet op.18/4, Pražák Quartet

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