“Revolution is great,” violinist Alexander Bălănescu intoned over electronic beat and slashing, amplified strings. Numbers from the Balanescu Quartet’s 1994 album Luminitza – which draws on the Romanian frontman’s experiences returning to his country of birth after an absence of 22 years – made up the first bracket of the group’s retrospective concert at the Adelaide Festival.
The quartet, whose influences span folk music to Minimalism and experimental German electronic group Kraftwerk, has a long history with Adelaide, including performing (with a different line-up) the soundtrack to Meryl Tankard’s Possessed at the 1998 Adelaide Festival, and there were obviously plenty of fans in the audience at the Adelaide Town Hall.
Alexander Bălănescu. Photo: supplied
From the folk-infused Luminitza tracks, shot through with a Michael Nyman-esque post-minimalist momentum, Bălănescu and his band took the audience deeper into his Romanian heritage with works from the 2005 album Maria T. Named for singer Maria Tănase, Bălănescu’s works built on and are inspired by her songs. Mountain Call saw the quartet duetting with Tănase’s voice over the speakers, echoing her shepherd cries in haunting harmonics while Bălănescu’s violin, in a halo of reverb, took on a voice-like tone in Aria, James Shenton’s violin climbing in long arcs. An upbeat dance interlude led into the dream-like The Young Conscript and the Moon, building to an impassioned climax and featuring slinky off-beat viola lines from Katie Wilkinson.
While there was some murkiness in the sound, which blunted the clarity of the vocals early on, and there were a couple of ragged moments intonation-wise, this was a colourful and energetic concert – underpinned by Bălănescu’s warm, if understated, stage presence – charting a sonic journey through the ensemble’s musical worlds.
For the Quartet’s final set, they revisited the music that made the band famous in the early 90s – string quartet covers of Kraftwerk songs, Nick Holland’s cello grinding as harmonics shot off bouncing bows, Wilkinson’s viola jagging – finishing with Pocket Calculator, Bălănescu delivering the vocals and dancing energetically with his violin.