The letters of Beethoven, alive in words and music
By Leeor Adar
A Tinalley String Quartet and John Bell collaboration is an iconic pairing that would excite any theatre or classical music aficionado.
Tinalley’s Adam Chalabi (1st violin), Lerida Delbridge (2nd violin), Justin Williams (viola) and Michelle Wood (cello) are exceptional. Thirteen years of performing worldwide and multiple awards later, it is unsurprising Tinalley have reached the status of one of ‘Melbourne’s Most 100 Influential People’. The precision, intensity and elegance of their music do justice to the brilliance of Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Tinalley first treat us to Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in a minor, Opus 13. Without a doubt, this is Mendelssohn’s journey through the soaring heights of passionate love. Further inspired by the passing of Beethoven, Mendelssohn’s Opus 13 features the occasional tribute to the old master, whilst carving his own fervour into the Quartet tradition.
One can imagine walking in the night air, bathed in the moonlight during the Adagio – Allegro vivace. Into the second movement, the Adagio non lento, there is a maddening energy that is both overwhelming and reminiscent of Beethoven’s Quartet, Opus 95. Succumbing to the varying moods of Mendelssohn’s romantic Quartet so far, the third movement, Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto, is an insistent melody that intertwines rapturously. The dazzling Quartet closes with the intensity of Beethoven’s leaning, and forms an amalgamation of all previous movements with Mendelssohn’s distinct flair.
When Tinalley finishes the Quartet, I am under Mendelssohn’s spell. It is fitting that Mendelssohn’s Quartet, so inspired by Beethoven, should be the splendid gatekeeper to Beethoven and his letters.
Enter Bell, letters in hand.
Bell’s timeless, cool voice embodies Beethoven’s deeply personal letters, reflecting his tempestuous temperament. From the earnest longing for the company of his friend Karl Amenda at age 31, to a different kind of longing for his Immortal Beloved at age 42, the insight into Beethoven’s lonely, and intense emotional inner life is palpable. It is not difficult to hear how Beethoven’s music reflected the torment and passion he experienced within himself. The audience was given some comic relief in Beethoven’s letters to his nephew’s boarding school owner. The letters show the intensity of Beethoven’s hatred towards his sister-in-law, and later, a copyist who dared fail his expectations.
Interspersed amongst the reading of the letters, Tinalley performs Beethoven’s String Quartets, with each reflecting the mood of the letters read by Bell. Conceptually devised by Anna Melville, Melville brought Beethoven to life in a way that his music alone could only do in suggestion. The rich insight his letters provide confirm the temperament of the man who shared so much in his music.
Speak Less Than You Know was an outstanding and enjoyable insight into the Quartets of two masters. I, like others in the audience, left the Melbourne Recital Centre with a renewed passion for the men and their music that existed almost two hundred years before us.
‘Speak Less Than You Know’ was performed at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Recital Centre across three nights.