Monday 5 September 2022



String Quartets by


Verona Quartet

Azica ACD-71339


Singaporean violinists have made an impact overseas, the evidence being key positions they hold in international performing groups. One will cite Lee Pan Hon (former leader of the Ulster and Halle Orchestras), Ike See (Adelaide Symphony and Australian Chamber Orchestra), Alan Choo (Apollo’s Fire and Red Dot Baroque) and now Jonathan Ong, who is first violinist of the Verona Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence in Oberlin Conservatory (Ohio).


Formed in 2013, the Verona is a truly cosmopolitan outfit, with its other members hailing from Canada (Second violinist Dorothy Ro), USA (Violist Abigail Rojansky) and Great Britain (Cellist Jonathan Dormand). Hailed as a quartet for the 21st century, the Verona’s debut album Diffusion (recorded 2019) is an excellent showcase of repertoire from the past century. The glory of 20th century music is its sheer diversity, with harmonic variety telling only part of the story.


The music of Czech composer Leos Janacek (1854-1928) is so distinctive that it could not be mistaken for anybody else’s. His Second String Quartet, also called “Intimate Letters” (1928), follows his First Quartet (Kreutzer Sonata) as being the music of anguish. An obsessive (but unrequited) love for a woman many years his junior saw him pour his heart with hundreds of letters in his final year. Filled with plangent harmonies, abruptly violent transitions and bracing climaxes, built over a foundation strongly inflected by Bohemian folk music, the music receives a reading of stunning vividness and refinement, one which poignantly lays bare an inner torment.

Janacek, Szymanowski & Ravel.


Just one year separates this from the Second String Quartet (1927) of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), whose musical idiom is just as unique and personal. Loosely labelled an impressionist, this quartet is anything but, its surface astringency being coloured by folk music from the Tatra mountains of his homeland. Especially ear-catching is its central Scherzo with its mimicry of bellowing guffaws, balanced by the finale’s serious fugal episodes, which eventually gives way to an energetic and emphatic close. A more trenchant performance would be hard to find.

The earliest and most familiar work comes from Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), whose only String Quartet (1903) in F major has just about been played to death. But wait, for here is a sensitive performance that brings out its lyricism and poetry, contrasted by alternating movements of robustness and rude health. Well concealed within the score is its cyclical form; the theme from its opening movement is heard again in different guises in later movements. Considered a Germanic (read Wagnerian) device, it is a surprise coming from this Frenchman. The Verona Quartet never loses track of this and the listener is made well aware of the music’s unity. One might already have favourite recordings of the quartets (especially the Ravel), but this 20th century combo from the Verona Quartet is rather special. Be sure to hear it.

Verona Quartet performs at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory on Thursday (8 September 2022) at 7.30 pm. Get your tickets here:

Ones to Watch: Verona Quartet Recital Tickets, Thu 8 Sep 2022 at 19:30 | Eventbrite      

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