This year’s Bowral Autumn Music Festival comprised a total of eight concerts. The stars of the four concerts I attended, and probably of the entire festival, were the four members of the Acacia String Quartet who began matters with an excellent account of Haydn’s Quartet in G, Op. 77 No 1, displaying great musicality, a fine tone and a degree of unanimity in the slow movement that is unusual in string quartet playing. The same was true of their performance, together with David Griffiths, of Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, K581. It was no service to Ross Edwards, however, to place his brief Yananda for solo clarinet between two great masterpieces of chamber music.
The concert on the Friday night featured four singers, Jane Sheldon, soprano, Anna Fraser, soprano, Andrew Goodwin, tenor, and David Greco, baritone, with pianists Sira Battaglin and Phillip Shovk. After the interval, by which time their voices had warmed up, the singers gave an enthusiastic and enjoyable performance of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes Op. 52. Here the singers displayed great skill negotiating the tricky vocal writing and also brought out the unexpected humour in these pieces. Earlier in the programme, in interesting songs by Australian composers, their voices sounded somewhat raw, although the two male singers gave accomplished performances of three Mendelssohn duets. Even more impressive was the entire group’s beginning the programme ‘cold’ with Hindemith’s Six Chansons without the benefit of a tuning fork.
A varied programme on Saturday night presented a String Quartet by Gunter Raphael (1903-1960) a German composer, persecuted by the Nazis, who nevertheless escaped extermination but never, after the war, regained the eminence as a composer that he had enjoyed in the 1930s. His quartet, as played by the Acacias, was a serious and impressive work. The group are about to record Raphael’s three quartets in Berlin, an event that should be well worth waiting for. Phillip Shovk played Schumann’s Kinderszenen to great acclaim and joined the Acacias after the interval for a monumental performance of Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34.
For me, the surprise of the festival was Face to the Sun by the Australian composer Sally Whitwell (b. 1974) as performed by the Acacia Quartet on the Sunday afternoon. This was a fascinating and intellectually gripping work, which had a great success with the audience. It was, I thought, superior in content to the Raphael quartet heard the previous day and the Acacia’s performance of it outshone their traversal of Schubert’s Quartet in E Flat, D87 which preceded the Whitwell. After the interval, the Acacias concluded the Festival with a performance of Beethoven’s Quartet in E Flat, Op. 74 that was enjoyable, despite a few lapses in accuracy.