★★★★½ Some cool Sibelius and blazing Beethoven with a rousing Finnish.

Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House
September 18, 2016

You’re a string quartet and you’ve engaged a second cellist to play Schubert’s String Quintet but you want to get top return for your dollar. What do you do? Well, you couldn’t do better than to pair it with Nikolaus Simrock’s 1832 arrangement of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata for two violins, viola and two cellos.

Finnish String Quartet Meta4

This seldom-heard anonymous take on the masterpiece, published five years after the composer’s death, was the climax of the latest Utzon Music Series recitals at Sydney Opera House, featuring the exciting Finnish string quartet Meta4 with Australian Chamber Orchestra Principal Cellist Timo-Veikko “Tipi” Valve. And what a musical discovery this is. If you go looking for a recording of it you’ll be hard put to find one, and the chances of hearing it live are pretty slim.

Cellist Timo-Veikko Valve

This performance, therefore, was special, not least for the quality of the players – violinists Antti Tikkanen and Minna Pensola, violist Atte Kilpelainen and cellist Tomas Djupsjobacka, and of course Valve who has established himself as a crowd pleaser in the 10 years he has been based in Australia.

With the piano part being shared liberally between Valve’s cello, the viola and second violin it made for some exciting interplay and interesting insights into the architecture of the original work. After the famous double stopped opening, thrown back and forth between the violins, the Presto first movement was a fiery and passionate affair, Valve’s cello introducing the gorgeous main tune as well as providing some finger-busting arpeggios. The variations in the pivotal middle movement provided an opportunity for all performers to show off their skills and the Allegretto featured some virtuosic passages over the insistent rhythms in the lower strings. This set things up nicely for the foot-tapping quick finale which at times threatened to spin off into a ceilidh-like Irish jig.

Earlier the four Finns had played their national composer Jean Sibelius’s only generally recognised quartet, Voces Intimae, composed in1909 in the depths of despair when he believed he had throat cancer and was forced to give up his beloved cigars and alcohol. Harrowing at times and mysterious at others, this is the Sibelius of the condensed and disturbing Fourth Symphony before the triumphant blaze of the brassy Fifth broke through. The grey and rainy harbour view through the Utzon Room window formed the ideal backdrop to this work, which was beautifully realised by Meta4.

What they occasionally lacked in accuracy and precision they more than made up for with their passion, flair and attack. You might hear smoother and more rounded groups but few that are as exciting – or as engaging.