My door bell rang the other day while I was watching the England v Costa Rica game (World Cup 2014, for those few not watching). The postman smiled and handed me a stack of packages I knew to be CDs. He’s a daily visitor. The Tinalley String Quartet’s CD/press package was particularly impressive and, at the time, I made no connection between this Australian quartet and the dull game I was watching. Please, stay with me.
The Tinalley String Quartet formed in 2003 at The University of Melbourne and each player has impressive orchestral, teaching and chamber music careers. The quartet has made some important musical connections over the years, studying with quartets like the Tokyo, Takàcs and St. Lawrence. And, like our great St. Lawrence Quartet, the Tinalley Quartet won first prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition (2007). As part of the prize package, the quartet was awarded the opportunity to make this recording at The Banff Centre, in Banff, Alberta. I’m not sure why the it took seven years to complete. No matter, though, the CD is delightful on all levels.
The Tinalleys play with superb uniformity and each player can blend their sound or jump into the fray with beautiful solos. These qualities are only the beginning for a string quartet’s musical journey. Their intonation is excellent — even the slightest variance can stick out like a sore thumb. No sore thumbs, here. Yet, I know of three very famous quartets whose wonky intonation (sharp first violins, primarily) almost kneecapped them. What saved them is the final part of the musical equation. Personality. The three quartets in question had musical charisma in spades. So, where does the Tinalley stand?
This is where time together is important. Ten years of togetherness shows in the risks they take and the obvious trust they have in one another. More time is required to develop its corporate identity — I put the CD on for some friends and they felt the playing wonderful but not especially idiomatic. That may be a little harsh — if you have a need for a recording of these amazing quartets, the Tinalleys will do nicely.
The three Haydn Quartets from Opus 20 (1772) were a great choice for their prize recording. The quartets went along way to making ‘Papa’ Haydn the ‘Papa’ of the string quartet. They are filled with rhythmic fire, wonderful melodies, variations (here is where the individual players get to really shine), and rock sold musical forms. They were written when Haydn was 40 and echo the ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement (Storm and Stress) and feature intense and stirring elements. I’m ashamed to say I did not know the music before this recording. I urge you to use this CD as a launching point to discover other Haydn chamber masterpieces.
Will the Tinalleys develop the unique qualities of stellar groups like the Alban Berg, Emerson, Amadeus, Hagen, LaSalle, Busch, etc.? Only time will tell. Individually, they are excellent musicians. But, are they world class? That’s where the soccer comparison comes in. I first listened to the CD on the upstairs system which flanks the flat screen. As I listened casually, and watched England’s ’superstars’ get clobbered by Costa Rica’s journeyman players, my thoughts fell to chamber groups and their development.
The Tinalley is comprised of first desk, Australian orchestral musicians. That, in itself is fine, but the Berlin and Vienna orchestras have their own quartets. They are wonderful and comprise world class players but are no better corporately than the Tinalleys. There are recordings of the world’s greatest string players dabbling in quartets (think Neymar on first violin, Saurez on second, Messi on viola, and Rinaldo on cello). I can’t think of one that is distinctive. Just like the world class players of England, Spain and Italy are heading home early from this World Cup, little Uruguay, Greece, etc go through. The Tinnaley String Quartet is not the ‘Socceroos’ from Australia (also going home early), its Uruguay. Very good quality but coupled with the great spirit, drive and teamwork that’s needed to conquer musical Everests.
So, a fine achievement all around, from Canada’s amazing Banff Centre that hosts the competition and provides training, Move Records, which produced a wonderful recording, full of ambiance, clarity and a wide, deep soundstage, and the Tinalley String Quartet. A great quartet in the making.
String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4, Hob. III:34
Allegro di molto
Un poco Adagio e affettuoso
Menuet alla Zingarese. Allegretto
Presto e scherzando
String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 20, No.1, Hob.III:31
Menuet. Un poco Allegretto
Affettuoso e sostenuto
String Quartet in G minor, Op. 20, No. 3, Hob.III:33
Allegro con Spirito
Finale. Allegro di molto
Total playing time — 64:34
Release date May 2014
Move Records MD 3374