Likeable young ensemble on track to raise the piano quartet stakes.

Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House

July 31, 2014

The Sydney-based Australia Piano Quartet has been working since 2011 towards establishing itself as one of the city’s premier chamber groups and, based on tonight’s sell-out performance, things are on track. First on the program was Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor – the single opening movement of a work left incomplete by the composer. Violist James Wannan seemed to barely glance at the page as he constantly sought out eye-contact with his colleagues. He and violinist Rebecca Chan share a great musical rapport, but stand-in cellist Michael Dahlenburg was quick to find his place alongside them. This was a masterclass in non-verbal communication.

The second work was a newly commissioned piece by local composer Jack Symonds. It is worth noting that the Australia Piano Quartet only played four minutes of Australian music in a program that lasted well over an hour. Those four minutes were also all that was afforded music-makers of the past century, but Symonds’ explorative writing allowed the ensemble to demonstrate that they are certainly capable of handling the kind of techniques modern music often demands. We were only treated to the first movement of Responsories and as it started to gain momentum it was over. When the group heads to Europe next year, hopefully they’ll be taking some more Australian music.

The players eagerly returned to their comfort zone with Schubert’s Adagio and Rondo Concertante in F and that brief foray into the 21st century seemed to be merely ticking a box. The second act was devoted to Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G Minor and its four movements provided ample opportunity for each player to exhibit their musical chops while also stretching the full dynamic range of the combined ensemble. I felt like applauding the first substantial solo from pianist Evgeny Ukhanov who had provided a solid backbone for the group but was somewhat confined to the shadows. His air of elusiveness was enhanced by the fact that all except him took turns introducing the program – a nice touch from this likeable group of performers.