★★★★½ Francis Gouton and the Orava Quartet tackle a Schubert mammoth.

Townsville Civic Theatre
August 4, 2017

In his review of From Russia with Love at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, Clive Paget described the Orava Quartet as “the most exciting young quartet on the block” – and hearing them perform several times over the course of the AFCM’s final weekend, it’s not hard to see why.

Joined by cellist Francis Gouton, they took to Schubert’s D956 Quintet in C Major on Day 8 like trouts to water, bringing colour, focus and loads of energy to the mammoth work that spans almost an hour. The addition of an extra cello – rather than a viola – to make up the quintet’s numbers gives Schubert’s final piece of chamber music extra heft in the low register, with Gouton adding his honeyed tone to that of cellist Karol Kowalik, while first violinist Daniel Kowalik shimmered over David Dalseno’s scurrying second part. The first movement saw duets traded between Karol Kowalik and violist Thomas Chawner on the one side and Daniel Kowalik and Dalseno on the other, Gouton caught in the middle, roaring with full-bodied sound before the movement’s ultimately tranquil ending.

The prayer-like Adagio saw Daniel Kowalik tracing flecks of melody over Gouton’s plucked bass line, the inner parts supporting with hushed chords. Across this sombre movement, whose central section erupted with fiery cello lines from Gouton riding on the back of a syncopated accompaniment, the ensemble sustained a remarkable level of intensity that had the audience hanging on every note.

The mood pivoted on the crunching folk-dance of the Scherzo, shimmering strings alternating with fleet passagework, the two cellists leaning into muscular interjections but showing off some quick-fingered agility when it was called for. You could feel the audience itching to applaud before the segue into the darker-hued Trio, and again after the blistering energy of the recapitulation.

If there was a skerrick of uncertainty in the fierce rhythmic entry of the finale, it was soon banished. The Allegretto saw some rich melodic work from Dalseno, embellished with filigree from Kowalik’s first violin part, before the quintet powered forward to its blazing conclusion.

While the audience may have still been reeling from this performance, the musicians didn’t show an ounce of fatigue when they returned only a couple of hours later to deliver a sterling rendition of Schumann’s Op. 44 Piano Quintet. Here joined by another young Australian star, Jayson Gillham, they matched the pianist’s crisp attacks with biting entries of their own in yet another high-energy outing that more than justified their place at the table.


Classical Music