Fine Arts Quartet’s little surprise

Fine Arts Quartet and guest pianists the Witkowskis help us get to know Dohnanyi's chamber music.

By - Apr 15th, 2013 01:59 am
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Fine Arts Quartet, Evans, Boico, Cohen, Eugelmi.

A certain pleasure lies in the predictability of a brand name, in knowing exactly what to expect based upon a few words. This applies to items on the grocery shelf and to musical groups. But brand-name musicians can surprise with repertory and programming while practicing the expert musicianship one would expect based on the “brand.”

The Fine Arts Quartet, a name brand for decades, was a case point. Sunday afternoon at UWM’s Zelazo Center, violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, and cellist Robert Cohen, with violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez substituting for Nicolò Eugelmi and guest pianists Fabio and Gisele Witkowski combined for an excellent concert a little outside the FAQ’s usual conservative rep.

Just one piece on Sunday’s program was for string quartet, the American premiere of Italian composer Nicola Campogrande’s String Quartet, subtitled “Rimedi per L’Anima  or “Remedies for the Soul”), composed in 2011 and premiered in 2012. The three movements proved quite fascinating; while the harmonies are undeniably contemporary, the spirit of the piece is undeniably Romantic, full of the grand gestures and sweeping melodies associated with the 19th century. I was not acquainted with Campogrande’s music prior to Sunday; this piece will readily reward repeated listening, and I look forward to becoming acquainted with more of his work.

Gisele Witkowski joined the Fine Arts for Ernő Dohnányi’s Second Piano Quintet, opus 26. The Fine Arts’ performance of Dohnányi’s Second String Quartet enchanted me, and Sunday the quintet charmed me as well.  Like his string quartet, the piano quintet is unconventional in form. In both, themes recur among the three movements and unpredictable changes in style and texture occur throughout. Ominous mystery gives way to dance rhythms which give way to sly wit. As in the Second String Quartet, the quintet’s last movement ends rather quietly, with a return to the material of the opening of the first movement.

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Gisele and Fabio Witkowski – from the artists’ website

The Witkowskis performed Brazilian composer Ronaldo Miranda’s Serious Variations on a Theme by Anacleto de Medeiros. Miranda used de Medeiros’ song “Rasga o Coraçao” (“Tear my Heart”) as the basis of a set of variations that simultaneously suggest both 19th century four-hand piano repertory and Brazilian rhythms. The Witkowskis brought the variations to life with a masterful performance.

The program ended with a return to Dohnányi, as the Fine Arts Quartet joined by Fabio Witkowski in Dohnányi’s First Piano Quintet, Opus 1. If this piece seems more conventional than the Second Quintet, it is still extremely impressive — the composer was but 17 when he penned the score. The forms are traditional — sonata, a scherzo, a ternary slow movement, rondo. Even so, the youthful Dohnányi never fails to impress with his skill and even occasionally surprise, as when he jumps into quintuple meter in the last movement.

In a way, Dohnányi’s Opus 1 reflects the Fine Arts Quartet’s 2012-2013 season: at once predictable and surprising.

Coming soon: The Fine Arts’ Summer Evenings of Music Series.

Categories: Classical, Music

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