Speak Less Than You Know – Beethoven’s Letters

Sydney Opera House (Tinalley String Quartet / John Bell)

It seems a simple enough premise – readings of some of a composer’s letters accompanied by some of his music. But in the hands of the parties concerned – Beethoven, Tinalley and John Bell – it becomes a most captivating and enjoyable performance.

For those of us not too up with composers’ biographies this is a revelation of what a multi-faceted and vibrant personality Beethoven was. It begins with a letter promoting his own talents to the head of government – written when only 13. There are love letters to his ‘immortal beloved’ seething with passion and desire. And correspondence with doctors and friends about his rapidly encroaching deafness which fills him with understandable despair. Most entertaining is a note to an incompetent musical copyist whose failings Ludwig points out with a torrent of vitriolic abuse.

The delightfully-named Tinalley quartet bring out the beauty and complexity of Beethoven’s music in what many consider its purest form. There are some seven movements, played with a commitment and fidelity that does Beethoven proud. My favorites were the second movement of the Opus 74 (‘Harp’) and the glorious third movement of the Opus 132 (‘Heiliger Dankgesang’) with which the performance concludes.

John Bell is superb in reading the well-selected letters. Fortunately there are no fake German accents, and Bell reads the writings with a robustness and passion that make us feel we are in the presence of the author. The translations seem excellent.

There’s the occasional problem of balance between musicians and speaker but the overlays are generally excellent and effective.

As a curtain-raiser the group played Mendelssohn’s second string quartet, Opus 13, a work to which they are obviously deeply attached. It is a brilliant piece, evidence of Beethoven’s legacy. The well-known Intermezzo is particularly lovely. It is enchanting to see a string quartet performing from close quarters in the intimacy of the Utzon Room – the body language, eye contact and shared pleasure in their craft.

Quartet: Adam Chalabi (1st violin), Lerida Delbridge (2nd violin), Justin Williams (viola), Michelle Wood (‘cello).<br>

‘Beethoven’s Letters’ concept devised by Anna Melville

More information:  http://tinalley.com.au

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Mon 26th September 2016)

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