Fine Arts Quartet Summer Evening No. 3
It had been a while since I’d heard Mary Elizabeth Williams, who is roving the world as a free-lance soprano after showing enormous promise in her late student days in Milwaukee a few years back.
She dropped in to sing Chausson’s substantial Chanson perpétuelle with the Fine Arts Quartet Sunday night. If that performance is any indicator, Williams has blossomed into the grand artist many expected her to become.
The voice is huge, complex and rich. Tone production seems to be effortless. She hits pitch on the bull’s-eye and colors it with a subtle, elegant vibrato. A diva presence completes the package.
She put all of her talent and skill to the service of the drama in this extended song, the cri de coeur of a wronged lover. Williams phrased the song, parsed its rhythms and connected tones and words with a luscious legato to make it sound like a spontaneous outcry.
Pianist Katherine Chi and the muted strings of violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violist Nicolò Eugelmi and cellist Wolfgang Laufer accompanied as if from a distance, like a sympathetic Greek chorus.
Chi created the impression of a vigorous, aggressive pianist, as opposed to a more retiring, poetic sort. She reinforced that impression in Ernst von Dohnányi’s youthful Quintet No. 1 in C minor, Opus 1. She drove the tempos, accented sharply and generally set the tone in a hell-for-leather reading.
I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Dohnányi. His fevered, effortful, too-late Romanticism lives on the edge of Snidely Whiplash melodrama. In this piece, I heard it especially in the throbbing, operatic melody in the slow movement and its rise to tear-jerking grandeur. But this piece has its moments, notably in the vigorous dances in asymmetrical and irregular meters. Chi and the Fine Arts Quartet made us feel the whipsaw action of two against three and thrills and spills that go with it.
This was the third of four FAQ Summer Evenings at the UWM Zelazo Center. The final concert is set for 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 27. Click here for details.