A review of "Migration" at the NGA. Sunday, May 28

Migration - Australian String Quartet and Slava Grigoryan , Gandel Hall, National Gallery of Australia. Sunday, May 28. 

The Australian String Quartet

Hearing a guitar and a string quartet play together created a more even sound than imagined

Dale Barltrop, violin, Francesca Hiew, violin, Stephen King, viola and Sharon Grigoryan on violoncello make up the Australian String Quartet (ASQ). For Ralph Towner’s  work “Migration”, and Australian composer Iain Grandage’s  piece “Black Dogs’, Slava Grigoryan accompanied on guitar. The final work was Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet in G Major”.

If you’ve heard of the band Oregon from the 1970s, you will know Ralph Towner

Oregon area jazz and world music influenced band that has a clear and crisp sound. They have been going for 46-years. Ralph Towner help found the band and his musical style has a strong influence on the band's sound. His 16-minute piece "Migration" opened the concert. It was jazzy, repetitive and idiosyncratic. Written in 2003, but never produced until recently, it came to life through the interest of Slava Grigoryan wanting to record it.

The guitar has some solo moments throughout the work, but it didn’t stand out. The playing stood out, but as this is more of a quintet style than a guitar-led piece, it blended well. While this work does not hit the musical heights, it is an efficient and atmospheric piece.

"Black Dogs" is piece of music you should hear again and again

From the muted opening on all instruments in “Black Dogs” by Iain Grandage, the guitar melts its magic through the quietly sliding tones of the quartet. It was a joy to watch Slava Grigoryan concentrate on this music, it showed just how in tune he is with this composition; he gave the most exceptional performance. He makes you believe that he truly loves this work.

The violinists stood either side of the stage at the beginning of “Black Dogs”. The other players sat centre stage. As it progressed, the violinists walked towards the other performers while playing and sat down. This created a unique effect. It changed the stereo field and brought the sound together on centre stage; it also lifted the volume.

This piece speaks to you like a softly spoken language. Overall it is quiet and contemplative, with some lovely melodies and standout moments. When it bursts forth, it does it with passion and beauty.

“Black Dogs” was written about the effects of depression and melancholy that Grandage witnessed in two close friends. It is clearly a personal work for the composer, and you could feel that. It was much more guitar-led than the previous piece, and it worked better because of that style. Grandage is an excellent composer. He has an ear for unique formations while creating a full and warm sound with his musical designs. 

The final string quartet from Franz Schubert

In a strong contrast to the preceding compositions, Schubert’s Quartet sounded like it had the voice of a symphony. This work is screaming out to be orchestrated for a large ensemble. The viola has some distinct moments in the first movement; it holds the melody out in front. The contrasts in dynamic and tempo alone, show you just how great this young composer was. I lost count of the number of musical motifs over the four movements.

The ASQ know how to give a subtle and dynamic performance. Schubert’s work quickly bounces from emotion to emotion, and the players did an excellent job of producing the liveliest and moving tones, with perfect group coordination. It was a sensitive and captivating concert by all performers.