Pianist Xiayin Wang a hit with the Fine Arts Quartet

By - Nov 15th, 2010 02:57 pm
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A capacity crowd attended Sunday’s Fine Arts Quartet concert at the UW-Milwaukee Zelazo Center.

Fine Arts Quartet

L to R: Evans, Boico, Laufer, Eugelmi

With rising-star pianist Xiayin Wang as guest, the Fine Arts Quartet reserved their entire concert for piano-based chamber music in all configurations: a piano trio, piano quartet and piano quintet.

At intermission and after the concert, the audience could talk about little else but the great pianist they had heard.

Schumann’s Piano Quartet, Op. 47, delivered the most excitement.

Violinist Ralph Evans, violist Nicolò Eugelmi and cellist Wolfgang Laufer opened with a taut harmonious chorale. The pianist then asserted herself with a bright crystalline theme, to begin a taut dialogue between piano and strings. Schumann wove beautiful melodies throughout the work, and the most memorable returned again and again.

Evans led the way through a short scherzo with the speed and finesse that are trademarks of the Fine Arts Quartet. In the Andante cantabile Laufer found the soul of the work in expansive romantic melodies. The finale turned on a rich fugue, tightly delivered.

Pianist Xiayin Wang

Pianist Xiayin Wang. Photo by Sarah Shatz

Xiayin Wang was a full partner, well integrated into the group. She dazzled the audience with a virtuoso style through dramatic passages, led the way through much of the development and brought life to the several melodies she shared with strings.

Franck Piano Quintet is best described as a concerto for string quartet. The piano plays the role of the orchestra, but sometimes switches roles with the quartet. Franck assigned the piano rich, complex passages. Sometimes, the keyboard shares in the lyrical themes developed in the strings and sometimes provides a backdrop that grounds the sound and often drives the work forward and builds momentum. Thus can five players fill a hall with symphonic sound. Franck wrote beautiful lyrical melodies and created excitement beyond the usual chamber sound.

In the second movement, tender piano melodies converse with contemplative strings. The last movement opened with strings sounding like entire string sections as the base for a virtuoso piano soloist. Agitated strings slowed to revisit early themes. The piano led the build-up to a rousing conclusion.

The Schumann trio, Marchenerzahlungen (Fairy Tales) was the least satisfying. Wang played well, but that piano part, in the Zelazo Center’s acoustic, dominated the strings too much, especially given the relatively uninteresting material Schumann gave it. With a percussive piano in the foreground, violinist Efim Boico and Eugelmi seemed timid in their delivery of the few melodic themes in the piece. The three played the piece in a straightforward, serious work, but the title suggests a light, playful treatment. The original version, featuring clarinet rather than violin, would have more easily reached that objective.

Next week, the Fine Arts Quartet will join Chinese born Xiayin Wang in several concerts in New York, her current home base. Wang will participate on the next Fine Arts Quartet Naxos CD, to feature Schumann.

More Schumann, by the way, is coming at 7:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 15), when the Philomusica String Quartet plays at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

Milwaukee turns out when the price is right. A year of free concerts as the Fine Arts Quartet approaches its 65th year is likely to continue to produce big crowds at the next concerts, Feb. 6 and March 6. This is a great opportunity to experience a local treasure. (Reservations are recommended.)  Also recommended – the excellent Stephen Basson’s prelude talks at 2 p.m. on Sundays and the open rehearsals at noon on the Saturdays before the concerts.

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