Apparently the word “Acies” is derived from the proto Indo-European root meaning sharp, or pointed. There were certainly no rough or jagged edges in the performance of the Acies quartet from Austria, at St. Andrew’s church, Vasco on 19 November 2011.

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The concert began with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet no. 1 in E flat major, opus 12. Its first movement’s lyrical, delicate phrasing called to mind Beethoven’s “Harp” quartet, especially in the opening introduction. The ensemble’s rapport and high playing technique were immediately apparent. The Trio section of the second movement (Canzonetta) conjured up the ethereal texture of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a host of fairies (or were they angels?) flitted about merrily as they played. The third movement was a dreamy romantic aria for the first violin (played masterfully by Benjamin Ziervogel) which segued dramatically into the thrilling rollercoaster final movement, culminating in the “home” theme of the opening movement. Although written when the composer was just twenty, the Mendelssohnian fingerprint is unmistakable throughout the work.

This was followed by Beethoven’s String Quartet no. 8 in E minor, opus 59, nr. 2, the second of three of his “Razumovsky” cycle of string quartets. In the cerebral entreaties of this work, Beethoven extends his virtuoso writing to transcendent heights. The first violin melodic line often matched that of his violin concerto in its beauty of tone, lyricism and complexity.. The hymnlike second movement is believed to have come to Beethoven as he gazed up at a starry sky and contemplated the music of the spheres, while the next movement has a “theme russe” which was also used by Mussorgsky in Boris Godunov. In this work, the Acies were truly spellbinding, full of blinding insight and aspiration. This young quartet may not yet have peaked, but with their almost precociously mature depth of perception, they have certainly thrown their hat into the ring in staking their claim as a major chamber ensemble of the future.

The evening ended rather abruptly, with just one movement (the second) of Mozart’s piano quartet no. 1 in G minor, K. 478, and with Austrian ambassador to India Ferdinand Maultaschl at the piano. The rendition seemed under-rehearsed, and seemed to also suffer from the fact that the string trio were neither on the same floor level nor under the same vault as the piano in the church. The piano therefore seemed aurally “removed” from the ensemble too, and no amount of coaxing from the strings could remedy that.

We were not allowed to even think of requesting an encore, as the decision by then seemed to have been taken to terminate the event, amidst hectic whispers in the front pew while the music played.

Sadly, the aforementioned fairies and angels had to jostle for space with cameramen who impudently intruded the aural and visual space of the audience throughout the concert. Such a media circus creates the impression in young impressionable minds that such behaviour is acceptable, and that it is possible for there to be greater personalities present at classical music concerts than the great composers themselves, and that sublime music can be commandeered and made subservient as mere background noise to something far lesser than itself.

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