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Reviews/Music

Local focus yields rich rewards

10 November 2021

2021 has been the year of showcasing extraordinary WA talent for Musica Viva and this concert, showcasing the Sartory String Quartet and teen pianist Shuan Hern Lee, was a stunning example.

‘Sartory String Quartet & Shuan Hern Lee’, Musica Viva ·
Perth Concert Hall, 8 November, 2021 ·

I last worked with West Australian child prodigy, Shuan Hern Lee, when he was only 15. He learned Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in six weeks for a private performance with Perth Symphony. He was breathtaking then, so it was with high expectations I awaited his performance as a now ‘mature’ 19-year-old.

The concert commenced with a solo performance of Chopin’s momentous Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52. The work, tentative at first, soon gains momentum into the rich, swirling melodies and cascading passages that Chopin is so revered for. Hern Lee’s maturity in performing this work so flawlessly shows he has developed into a world-class talent.

Sartory String Quartet, comprising four gifted WA musicians led by virtuoso violinist Paul Wright, followed with Haydn’s String Quartet in C major, Op. 20 No. 2. Wright noted in his introduction that whilst a student he had “jammed” hundreds of string quartets until 4am, but had never played Haydn’s Opus 20. I was curious to hear this relatively early Opus in Haydn’s quartet output to see if it was a little simplistic, or maybe even slightly boring, resulting in this opus being ignored by student quartets the world over.

I was utterly delighted from the opening bars featuring the fluid playing of cellist Sophie Curtis. The first movement was full of wonderful melodic phases and delightful contrapuntal lines shared among all players, and how balanced they were. Second violinist, Pascale Whiting, followed so precisely that she and Paul Wright appeared to move as one. Kathy Potter sang out her lead viola lines which flowed seamlessly from Curtis’ silky playing. The wonderful musicianship of the ensemble shone in the final fugal movement. Paul Wright, absolutely on form in this music, performed exquisitely delicate high passages.

I wracked my brains to remember any other Haydn quartet that took the first violin to such stratospheric positions on the violin, and it dawned on me why student quartets don’t readily “jam” these Opus 20 Sun Quartets – they’re actually damn hard to play. They demand a huge amount musically and technically from every player, and that makes for a challenging read at 2am after a wine or two! Sartory made it look easy, finding depth of emotion and texture throughout.

The finale of the concert was Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 arranged for string quintet and piano solo. This is a thunderous work full of wildly exciting scales and melodic passages with the pianist moving from one end of the keyboard to the other over and over in a hypnotic, surging frenzy.

I honestly had no idea how on earth five string players could replace an entire symphony orchestra to accompany the piano. However, with the addition of Andrew Sinclair, Principal Double Bass player from the WA Symphony Orchestra, there was nothing to worry about as his musical, confident playing brought the work to life.

The strings performed the entire exposition with rich lyricism in contrast to the lightness of the Haydn, and I can only hope I see Sartory perform again with Sinclair, so good was their ensemble playing. When Hern Lee finally entered with his opening statement, the limelight was all his. Several times I heard members of the audience gasp around me, so mature and accomplished was his playing. Chopin wrote this at 20 years of age, just a few months older than this incredible soloist performing in front of us.

Brilliant music stunningly played. This was a Monday night I shall remember for a very long time.

The final Musica Viva concert for 2021 is “Rachelle Durkin and Jonathan Paget” on 29 November 2021.

Bourby Webster works with Sophie Curtis, Paul Wright, Kathy Potter and Pascale Whiting as CEO of the Perth Symphony Orchestra.

Pictured top: Shuan Hern Lee with the Sartory String Quartet and bassist Andrew Sinclair. Photo supplied

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Author —
Bourby Webster

Bourby Webster is the Founder and CEO of Perth Symphony Orchestra one of WA’s newest and fastest growing arts companies. She is a graduate of Oxford University in Music and the Royal College of Music and is a professional violist, lecturer, presenter, and producer. She can’t even look at a playground as she suffers chronic motion sickness.

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