Tom Strini

Fine Arts Quartet free at last

By - Sep 12th, 2010 06:40 pm
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L to R: Evans, Boico, Laufer, Eugelmi

The Fine Arts Quartet has made Mozart’s K. 465 a staple of its repertoire. Sunday, violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violist Nicolò Eugelmi and cellist Wolfgang Laufer played it as if they knew absolutely everything about it from the very first bar. The “Dissonant” Quartet gets its nickname largely from the sustained major sevenths and augmented fourths in its introduction. Sunday, the Fine Arts patiently paced and carefully tuned that introduction to make the dissonances and their eventual resolutions play with a particular clarity and intensity.

Such skilled, insightful playing held throughout the piece: in the restrained passion of the slow movement, in which they kept the pulse steady and let the harmony carry the heartache; in the sharp contrast of mincing gentility and heavy-footed buffa dancing of the Allegretto; and in the explosive pace and dynamics of the finale.

The program’s novelty was Boris Tishchenko’s Quartet No. 5, from 1984. Tishchenko (b. 1939) is a new name to me. In idiom and harmony, this quartet lies somewhere between Shostakovich (without the irony) and Bartok (without the emotional intensity). Clever touches abound; I admired the zippy little ostinato, which sounded like a looped bird call, in the first movement, in which the barest fragment of a folk theme bent and stretched through some amazing variations. In the second movement, everyone takes a turn at elaborating on a rhetorical theme, then everyone plays a different version at once. I like the idea of that, but the resulting counterpoint sounded chaotic and excessively dense.

I’m also not sure the piece hangs together as a whole. I couldn’t quite grasp the point of the finale, which seemed to advance under a now-for-something-completely-different aesthetic. But maybe I just need to hear it again to get it. Or maybe the FAQ needs to work on it a little more to really convey it. This reading sounded a little unsettled, and lacking in the firm interpretive assurance that was so clear in the Mozart.

The players trod familiar ground once again in Sibelius’ Opus 56 (Voces Intimae), and did so with purpose and confidence. That’s not easy; Sibelius’ ways are quirky and complex in every way.

Evans and Laufer opened with an exchange that gave the impression of call and response over great distance. All four musicians unfurled the endless main melodies of the first movement with just the canny sort of parsing that makes them comprehensible and maintains momentum. And they knew exactly what to do with the skittering fragments that eventually gather into something like a second theme. And so it went through the antic dashes and abrupt stops of the second movement; the dense, rhetorical flowering of the third; and the mad, swashbuckling dance of the fourth.

The whirlwind scales of the finale — a rave-up on a folk tune and a Finn’s idea of gypsy fiddling — turned a little messy here and there. No matter; with this music, better too fast rather than too careful.

More than 500 people, the biggest FAQ crowd in years, gave the quartet a big ovation. To note its 65th season, the group is offering free admission to its concert series at the Zelazo Center at UWM, where it is quartet in residence. Click here for details.

0 thoughts on “Review: Fine Arts Quartet free at last”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Boris Tishchenko’s Quartet No. 5 was an enjoyable piece – entirely approachable, although contemporary. It seemed to be a mix of Russian folk melodies, re-imagined as contemporary themes with a Soviet industrial beat.

    The concert was a study in contrasting views of string quartets. Mozart introduced complex themes, blending multiple voices in ways few composers can. Sibelius often seemed content with assigned Nordic chords in a near unison approach. Tishchenko often took a simpler way out, assigning a theme to one instrument while the other three played the background until it was their turn to take the identical theme for a spin.

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