Cavaleri String Quartet – At the Pinnacle of Perfect Playing

The Governor of Victoria, His Excellency The Hon Alex Chernov AC QC, Mrs Elizabeth Chernov and The Cavaleri Quartet, Ballroom Government House, Melbourne, 2013

At Melbourne the Governor’s Recital Series held by a partnership between the Governor of Victoria, Chamber Music Australia and Arts Victoria.

Annually they present a series of free concerts in the magnificent former ballroom of Victoria’s beautifully restored Government House, which is next to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  On December 6th it was my joy to attend the final recital of the year, arranged as a surprise for my birthday, by our Special Features Victorian writer Janet Walker.

Playing for our pleasure was the simply splendid multi award-winning Cavaleri String Quartet, which consists of four young British-based musicians of quite breathtaking ability.

In 2011 this passionate group of players won 1st Prize in the prestigious Royal Overseas League (ROSL) Annual Music Competition at London, which encourages career development for young people of the Commonwealth. The (ROSL) is a non-profit Commonwealth private members organisation, committed to supporting international understanding and friendship through social, music, arts and welfare activities.

Martyn Jackson, 1st Violinist, The Cavaleri Quartet

It was the ROSL who sponsored their tour of New Zealand and Australia to raise funds for the Save the Children. fund.

Since its formation at London in 2008, the Cavaleri String Quartet has gained a reputation as one of the UK and Europe’s leading string quartets. Just recently British artist Martyn Jackson joined Ann Beilby (viola), Ciaran McCabe (violin) and cellist Rowena Calvert, when their founding 1st violinist left the group.

And, what a find he is.

Jackson had previously performed as a solo artist and chamber musician in the UK, Europe and Middle East and served as assistant concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

This meant that he had already enjoyed an experience far beyond what many young men have achieved to date. He’s not only a natural musician but also a natural leader, one whose body movements and amazing eye contact compelled his companions to follow his lead so that they could all make beautiful, exquisite music together.

The Cavaleri String Quartet enthralled the audience. They played with intensity, sensitivity and dynamism, to a point of perfection that almost defies description.

It was at the pinnacle of perfect playing.

At first they performed the String Quartet in D minor, No 11, K421/417b (1783) by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

There are four movements in this second of Mozart’s six compositions for quartets. It is perhaps his best, and certainly his most amazing, with its marvelous melodic gestures, wonderful rhythmic figures, superb harmonic progressions and constant changes in both mood and theme.

Their interpretation was very special.

As Mozart had dedicated this piece to colleague Joseph Haydn, who at the time ever musician of his age admired, it was easy to imagine he would have been more than pleased at their playing.

It was all at once delicate, sensitive and it charmed and delighted, as well as being dramatic and exciting; especially during the third movement, the Menuetto and Trio – Allegretto.

The synchronization between them all was so powerful we were all swept along on the grand, sweeping gestures, rising and falling along with the music.

What a wonderful journey it was. The audience clapped for so long after it was over the players looked slightly overwhelmed.

In between the two pieces Dr. Colin Fox a well-known ABC FM Melbourne presenter, who was MC for the afternoon, interviewed the players so the audience could learn a little bit about them.

Ann Beilby was the only Aussie in the group.

There is no doubt she was certainly proud to come home and to be playing in such a marvelous architecturally acoustic space in such illustrious company.

Talking to her afterwards, she was so excited by all that has transpired since she went to study in London, she was quite literally jumping out of her skin.

Martyn Jackson revealed when he had met his three colleagues with a view to joining them, that an instant connection had happened, one that bound them together from that moment on.

Their second piece for the day, the String Quartet in F minor, Op 95 No 11 “Serioso” (1810) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) was composed to be played for a small circle of connoisseurs. Apparently  he never meant for it to be performed in public.

How glad we all were that it was.

A compact complex work, the ‘Serioso‘ is a marvelous vehicle for energetic, seductive playing and on this day it certainly proved to be so.

The quartet produced a powerful searing emotionally unguarded rhythmic pulse, one that interlaced both heart and soul, holding us all captive.

They were beyond good.

Playing exquisitely, they reveled in the changes in tone and the brilliance of the phrasing.

They highlighted the drama, allowed us to feel the light and shade and to also be surprised by the dramatic mood swings of the music.

They produced a purity of sound that quite literally ‘knocked your socks off’.

The final meditative movement was deeply moving, ensuring that the audience instantly reacted as the final notes had faded, cheering, clapping and shouting bravo.

The Governor and his wife were beaming widely as was the General Manager from Chamber Music Australia Benjamin Woodroofe and the representatives from Arts Victoria and the ROSL.

It was obvious that like everyone else who was there, the official party had enormously enjoyed the magic of music made by the Cavaleri String Quartet.

They motivated and lifted us all up into a place of wonder, grace and deep reflection by the sheer skill of their artistry.

They certainly worked their magic in fine tune with each other. Theirs is a relationship that can only reap even greater rewards.

Rowena Calvert throughout both pieces played her Cello with great energy and exuberance.

The sheer beauty of sound came because of her virtuoso and very passionate playing.

A keen and active chamber musician, like her colleagues, Rowena was looking forward to taking time out after the tour was over, before heading back home to a London winter.

The Cavaleri String Quartet won First Prize in 2012 at the Hamburg International Chamber Music Competition. They were awarded additional prizes for their performances of Brahms and Mendelssohn. In 2011 they won a ‘Special Prize’ in the Premio Paolo Borciani International String Quartet Competition and the Royal Over-Seas League Ensemble Competition, which followed their Wigmore Hall London debut in 2010.

Before meeting his colleagues at the Royal College of Music violinist Ciaran McCabe toured and was a member of the London Chamber Orchestra and had performed with many renowned ensembles.

Sadly for me my view of Ciaran was blocked by a badly placed ‘speaker’s podium’, so I was unable to visually hone in on his individual performance, which assessing purely by sound was quite simply outstanding.

The concert as a whole was sensitive and poetic, charming, entertaining and deeply moving, enriching the very depths of everyone’s spirit and certainly put us all in a happy mood for the coming festive season.

It certainly left me feeling as if I had just been in a musical heaven, for twenty four hours having just come back from Sydney and the Pinchgut Opera’s triumphant and glorioso Giasone

Everyone there earnestly hoped that the Cavaleri String Quartet will come ‘down under’ again very soon. They also have that added dimension that makes them stand apart – the WOW factor!

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013

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