T'ang Quartet – Black Angels (review)
3 September 2015 / Queensland Conservatorium Theatre
I heard the T’ang Quartet in 2015 at the Brisbane Festival, performing George Crumb’s Black Angels, along with works by John Tavener and Hildegard von Bingen. The T’ang – with their fresh approach to programming and interpretation – have an expanded vision of the string quartet.
Full disclosure: I walked in late and only caught half of the Tavener and the complete Crumb…
Crumb’s Black Angels (1970), a frenzied, pulsing menagerie of electric string instruments and percussion (including crystal glasses, glass rods and tam-tam – all operated by the four string players) conjures the counterculture mood of the period. Performance of this music depends on poise and theatricality. I was astounded by the fiery commitment of the artists, particularly when they are called on to chant numbers in various languages. Their spectrum of timbre was captivating.
The three works on this program relate to the human voice. The Hildegard – originally intended for voices – flows into the ecstatic purity of Tavener, a contemporary of Crumb. Like the T’ang quartet itself, the Crumb doesn’t reject the canon, but expands on it, using quotes from Schubert's Death and the Maiden, re-composed into a faux-renaissance style in the sixth movement, Pavana Lachrymae.
This is a quartet of genuine artistry: their interpretation is always unanimous and never comes across as forced. They clearly live this music from the inside as though it is coming to life via spontaneous improvisation, not merely as a result of playing the notes on the score.