The Orava Quartet’s signature sound is created by a rare combination of intense musical focus and unequivocally fresh interpretation. Each instrument reflects the temperament of its player in subtle stylistic vocabulary, but simultaneously sings with the united voice of the ensemble. Daniel and Karol Kowalick, David Dalseno and Thomas Chawner are the epitome of Cool as they transport the audience through their disciplined, yet apparently effortless, response to the chosen repertoire.
Haydn’s String Quartet No. 30 in E Flat, ‘The Joke’, was played with bounce and brilliance. A sense of suppressed fun in this performance renewed the work to speak to a twenty-first century audience. The deliberate affectations in the score were played to perfection; the pauses cleverly balanced and the deliberate fizzer of an ending achieved the composer’s intention of creating much amusement throughout the auditorium.
In contrast, Sergei Rachmaninov’s Romance and Scherzo resonated through the combined strings in a smooth river. Chawner’s sonorous viola playing instantly contradicted every criticism ever made about the instrument sounding muted, bland or ineffectual. Kowalik is a magician with the cello, coaxing the voice to leap from the lower register to the upper while preserving even tonal quality and magically weaving the other instrumental voices more closely together. What exquisitely nuanced pizzicato in the Scherzo Allegro as Daniel Kowalik and David Dalseno danced around each other’s notes.
In another routine miracle, the Orava quartet lifted Debussy’s notes off the score of the String Quartet in G minor and created a vivid imaginative experience for each of us in the audience. I sometimes wish I could see what my fellow listeners are imagining in a concert, particularly with impressionistic music. Does anyone else experience a sunny French hillside with small mischievous gusts sending clouds across the sun in the first movement: Animé et très décidé? Perhaps it is better not to be able to see into the private imaginings of others as the music intensifies with increasing sensuality and emotional energy from Andantino, doucement expressif to Très modéré – En animant peu à peu – Très mouvementé et avec passion.
What great joy and what beauty these young men bring to life in their music as they perform on concert platforms around the world – and how lucky to hear them in Canberra.