Tom Strini

Philomusica Quartet’s bright energy

By - Nov 15th, 2010 10:49 pm
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The Philomusica: left to right, Kim, Zitoun, Hackett, Mandl.

An enthusiasm for music percolates through everything I’ve heard from the Philomusica Quartet. That was once again among the pleasures of Monday night’s concert at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, where the Philomusica is in residence.

Confidence and skill accompany that enthusiasm and make it legible to the ear. Violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexander Mandl, violist Nathan Hackett and cellist Adrien Zitoun let no phrase of Boccherini’s Quartet in B-flat, Opus 2 No. 2, and Beethoven’s Opus 18 No. 6 pass in dim light. They cast the sunshine of their full attention and energy upon both works, and the musc glowed within the friendly acoustic of the conservatory’s hall.

Boccherini (1743-1805), a great melodist, one of the first virtuoso cellists and a transitional figure in Classical style, still had one foot in Baroque practice. Brief fireworks erupt from the cello part and Zitoun made them sparkle, but he also understood that his part looked back a little to Baroque basso continuo. His colleagues balanced with him to create that texture of a buoyant bass line and top melody as prime and the inner lines as harmonic fill. That, along with sharply etched rhythm, had much to do with the bright clarity and bracing vigor of this reading.

The reading fit the piece; this is happy music in the galante style, the explicit embodiment of grace and good manners. A chromatic descent in the development of the first movement read as an emotional complication — neatly resolved, of course, within a reassuring, rational structure.

Beethoven became Beethoven early in the game. Already in Opus 18 No. 6, he goes to extremes, from raucous buffa hi-jinks in the first movement to ardent outpourings, to manic rushes and depressed hesitations suggestive of a heart barely holding on in the second. That, anyway, is how the second movement sounded Monday as the Philomusica went to convincing extremes with a score wide open to interpretation. Though volatile, this performance never became maudlin or out of control, due to the unmistakable emotional intent of behind the tempos, dynamics and phrase shapes. Also, the Philomusica kept rhythmic proportions clear even as they warped rhythms and tempos.

Pianist Winston Choi.

Pianist Winston Choi joined the string players in Schumann’s big, complicated Quintet in E-flat, Opus 44. Through all four movements, Schumann recasts his material and places it in different emotional settings. An idea that asserts itself as a massive, nearly orchestral juggernaut can return as an intimate meditation and again as a dashing charge. Choi and the quartet made it easy to hear all this, as the themes shone through the densest textures.

Schumann’s genius was bursting at the seams when he composed this Quintet, which also seems to be bursting at the seams with brilliant themes, explosive instrumentation, virtuoso parts for all five instruments and an ingenious structure that wraps it all into an amazing fugue at the very end. The great vigor and excitement the players brought to this performance, along with complete technical mastery, brought that genius into clear, breathtaking view.

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