Fine Arts Quartet’s summer finale
The easy flexibility that the Fine Arts Quartet applied to the start of Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 18, No. 1, Sunday expressed a point of view about the musical moment. In that moment, Beethoven introduces a fragment of melody that will, in endless versions, permeate the entire first movement. To hear the Fine Arts’ casual reading was to hear Beethoven thinking out loud: “Hello, here’s a little thing. Hmm, I could do this with it, or that, or extend it thus or speed it up. OK, then. Off we go.”
Violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violist Nicolò Eugelmi and cellist Wolfgang Laufer had clearly agreed upon a plausible interpretation and found nuances of attack, release, tempo, dynamics and timbre to it clear. That thoughtfulness and cohesion — which has not always been the case with the Fine Arts — was the rule throughout the quartet’s Summer Evenings of Music series, which this program ended.
I liked their suave, almost arch reading of the second theme, and their fleetness and lightness when Beethoven sends scales zooming in all directions in the development. The slow movement rose with fateful deliberation to a big climax, and the Scherzo’s light-hearted dancing evolved to a fierce, driven dash. And they found skill enough to make the high speed and agility of the finale playful and jolly rather than merely impressive.
This was engaging Beethoven, but you expect the FAQ to get Beethoven’s drama. I didn’t expect them to get Philip Glass, in the 1983-vintage String Quartet No. 2 ( Company) as they did. This music is about casting a spell, about being caught in a moment. It’s not going anywhere; the players understood that and set up and balanced Glass’ textures and let them be.
Schumann’s relentlessly, exhaustingly dense Quartet in A minor, Opus 41, No. 1, ended the program. Almost everyone plays almost all the time, and Schumann mixes the voices intricately. This is not an easy ride.
Well done, around.
News Note: Before the concert, UWM Peck School of the Arts dean Wade Hobgood announced that Lucy Cohn, a six-decade fan of the quartet, has made a bequest of a substantial gift to support group. (She was in attendance, as always, and received a nice round of applause for her gift.) The sum will establish the Norman and Lucy Cohn Fund for the Fine Arts Quartet. Hobgood did not announce the amount of the gift. I asked him about it at intermission, and he said that the exact amount was to be determined. He said it would be substantial, but below $1 million.
More FAQ News: The coming high season will be the Fine Arts Quartet’s 65. Hobgood announced that, in honor of the anniversary, admission to all FAQ concerts at UWM would be free during the 2010-2011 high season.
Also of interest: A little more chamber music is still coming this summer. A Frankly Music bonus concert is set for 7 p.m. July 1 at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Violinist Frank Almond, cellist Edward Arron and pianist Jeewon Park will get together in trios by Haydn, John Musto and Brahms. Details here.