Music history was created at St. Michael’s church Taleigão on 12 April 2013, with the first-ever concert in Goa by the formidable Kodály String Quartet.
Some of the most wonderful and widely loved chamber works in all music were written by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). The Kodály quartet chose as their opening work one of his lighter compositions (5 German Dances and 7 Trios with Coda, D90) written when he was barely sixteen. Yet it still manages to stand as freshly and strongly as ever today. The Kodály quartet impressed from the very first bright, warm, sunny chord of C major in the Menuet. The playing was effortless, elegant, and the music practically leapt off the pages and danced before us in affecting intimacy.
The next work was the Piano Quartet no. 1 in G minor, K. 478 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). This was the choice of Dr. Fareed Curmally, the pianist accompanying the KQ on the Goa leg of their concert tour in India. With the benefit of hindsight, the decision to place the piano on the plinth, two steps higher than the string trio, was unfortunate. As a result of this, Curmally seemed to hear the strings just a crucial millisecond later and his entries therefore sometimes appeared hesitant, whereas the responses by the trio were on time, leading to a rather stilted dialogue between the forces some of the time. Curmally’s touch also seemed just a little too heavy for Mozart, especially so in the Rondo-Allegro.
The tour de force of the evening was unquestionably String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, no. 1 (the first of the three great ‘Razumovsky’ quartets) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Here we heard a monumentally powerful performance of rare heroism from the Kodály quartet. The ensemble has an air of sublime communion in their playing. The spirituality of their music-making resonated through the beautiful St. Michael church. Watching them up close was spellbinding, like a masterclass in ensemble playing. The way they breathe together at the beginning of a phrase, the suppleness with which they lovingly shape each phrase, the eye contact at crucial junctures, the measured build-up in the crescendos and the ‘natural’ apparent ease with which they are able to turn upon a dime in the subito pianos, the neat but never fussy articulation, and oh, that warm old-world fine silken tone and sound quality, the subtle range of tone-colour! The intonation is of course a given from an ensemble of such stature. The enjoyment they derive from the music and from playing alongside each other is obvious and infectious. And the arsenal of technique each of the players has under their fingers is staggering. It was heartening to watch our Goan youth stare and listen open-mouthed as Attila Falvay (1st violin) in particular scaled the E string to stratospheric heights with the sure-footedness of a sherpa. All this despite the summer heat. The quartet preferred to play without the ventilation of the fans, as their whirring would have drowned out the music and affected the sound transmitted to the audience.
We heard first-hand why the Kodály quartet is widely regarded as among the finest string quartets on the international chamber music circuit.
Here’s hoping that we hear the Kodály quartet yet again in Goa upon their next concert tour of India in 2014. It is a sobering fact of life that classical music requires patronage. This concert was possible due to serendipity, a coming-together of several factors and several large-hearted people. What classical music in Goa needs is a steady, sustained, no-strings-attached sponsorship that will genuinely work towards building a busy, vibrant concert calendar in the state. It is the only way we can set benchmarks and role models for our youth to aspire to, and to play and love music to the fullest as they should. We would be failing our youth if we did not do this.
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 18 April 2013)