Just right for Paert, Beethoven, Schubert
The Philomusica's intelligent, sensitive and distinct approach to each piece of music has won it a large audience.
Violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexander Mandl, violist Nathan Hackett and cellist Adrien Zitoun are the Philomusica Quartet. In nearly five years together, they have learned to settle on and convey clear ideas, goals and specific sound worlds for just about everything they play.
Monday night, for example, they brought affecting simplicity, restraint and a galvanizing awareness to Arvo Pärt’s Summa. This meditative music calls for a rare, serene brand of passion. It’s not chant, and it’s certainly not goo-goo New Age, but its undulations and gently clashing dissonances hint at something beyond sound, the way Rothko paintings hint at something beyond the visible. This music, properly played, fosters a certain state of mind. It’s not about drama. The Philomusica got at it through just the right balance of the voices and just the right touch on the string, to evoke a sense of sound poised on the edge of a silent abyss.
In Summa, the Philomusica tuned every sound and placed every rhythm with the precise calm of a diamond cutter. The group took on another voice entirely for Beethoven’s Quartet No. 11 in F minor (“Serioso”). The four players stopped worrying about pristine pitch and ensemble and abandoned themselves to Romantic extremes of yearning and emotional violence. This rugged, disheveled, thrilling performance made a strong case for Beethoven letting it all out. Imagine Janis Joplin as a string quartet, and you get the idea. Sometimes, neatness doesn’t count.
This is music about getting hopes up, having them dashed and getting them up again. Schubert redeems his darkest turns with subtle streaks of light through the harmony. By conscious design or by intution, these players knew just which voice to emphasize, which bar to hasten, when to dig into the string and when to glide over it to bring out this sense of the first hint of morning light when night is darkest.
This was my first chance to hear Babini, the Milwaukee Symphony’s new principal cellist, outside the orchestra. She played the second cello part, which often functions as a bass line; the first cello mostly stays high, harmonizing with the second violin and viola or busy with Schubert’s layered countermelodies.
Babini left nothing to routine and became the engine that drove the music forward. She gave this piece a sense of Baroque texture, with its emphasis on dialogue between the top and bottom voices. Kim, playing first, responded alertly to Babini, and the two of them brought an added dimension to Schubert’s familiar quintet.
The Philomusica Quartet is in residence at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. The Helen Bader Recital Hall was packed for this concert, the quartet’s last of the season. They had to bring in extra chairs. The Philomusica deserves that audience, which exploded with applause at the end of the concert.
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