MUSICSCAN: The Vienna Chamber Orchestra String Quartet provided a wonderful treat for music lovers

“That there's a hard core of music lovers here who are seriously interested in Western classical music was evident from the fairly large and highly enthusiastic gathering which had assembled at the Sivagami Pethachi auditorium to listen to the performance of the visitors from Vienna.... What really did matter in this alien setting was not whether the music was good enough — it certainly had to be! — but whether it was substantial enough. What's the point of taking all the trouble to bring such accomplished musicians quarter-way across the world merely for dispensing such a small dose of their wonderful music to such an enthusiastic foreign audience, as if it were a strong medicine?”

That's the question which someone had asked this past year in the context of a concert organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the Austrian Embassy, featuring a group of seven musicians drawn from the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. The programme had lasted only about an hour, a substantial part of which was consumed by a superficial running commentary by one of the musicians.

Instant rapport

Things were different when an ensemble known as the Vienna Chamber Orchestra String Quartet performed in the same concert hall a few days ago. The programme, which lasted nearly two hours, presented some substantial and satisfying music. And a relevant and humorous running commentary by the first violinist and team-leader Joji Hattori established an instant rapport between the musicians and the audience. The four musicians -- Joji Hattori (first violin), Lily Francis (second violin), Sergey Malov (viola), and Luis Zorita (cello) – had perfect co-ordination and produced a pure, crystalline sound which was pleasing.

The ensemble began by rendering all the movements of Mozart's Dissonant Quartet (K.465). But the programme was meant to be representative, and some of the pieces which followed were extracts from well-known works: viz. the first movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 1, the second and third movements from Schubert's Quartet in E Flat Major, and the first movement from Beethoven's Quartet, op. 18/4.

For the piano item, the viola artist was replaced by Dr. Ferdinand Maultaschl, the Ambassador of Austria to India, who was described by Joji Hattori as an old friend and school-mate, and ‘a wonderful amateur piano player' (which the diplomat went on to prove with his performance).

Other works presented during this marvellous soiree were Haydn's Serenade (where Mr. Hattori set up the melody and all the others just plucked at their strings), and ‘Voices of Spring', the famous Johann Strauss waltz arranged for the string quartet.

All told, the evening's music was a wonderful treat for the highly enthusiastic audience. But this time too, one has a complaint! Unlike last year when the visitors from Vienna had faced a fairly large audience in the Pethatchi hall but had failed to satisfy the listeners, this time the audience had a really thrilling experience, but it was extremely small, with most of the seats being vacant. This was so because the event hadn't been advertised at all, and only an exclusive group of music lovers had been invited. What a great loss for others who would have surely turned up if only they had known!