Fine Arts ‘Quintet’ honors two masterworks
Few standing quintets exist, but a few times a year local quartets add a fifth, most often a pianist. Sunday, the Fine Arts Quartet added a violist, Paul Neubauer, for a Bruckner quintet. The FAQ also had a guest cellist, Andrés Díaz, to fill in for Wolfgang Laufer, who has begun an extended medical leave. Violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico and violist Nicolò Eugelmi, all regulars, completed the quintet.
To adjust to the changes, the group dropped Bruckner and in favor of two more familiar works, perhaps the best in the string quintet catalog. Mozart’s light, lovely String Quintet in C major, K. 515, features elegantly developed sonata form. Beethoven’s String Quintet in C major, Opus 29, includes lush melodies. It builds to a dramatic storm in the final movement and signals the dawning romantic era in composition.
Mozart’s first movement features an arpeggio call and response between first violin and cello. Díaz’s cello sounded especially rich and grounded. (Was it the acoustics of the room, the quaility of Andres Díaz’s playing or the cello itself? The cello, a 1698 Matteo Goffriller, was and is highly prized by musicians from Casals to Ma and surely deserves a share of the credit.)
Lyrical melodies turn from warm to flowing to passionate in Mozart’s andante second movement, in which Evans and Eugelmi took over the call and response. The Minuet (stylized and not for dancing) featured irregular rhythms and unusual harmonies from first and second violins. Mozart repeated the theme with instrumental pairings, to exploit available textures and timbres. The two violas add depth and a mellow tone.
The joyful finale, a fast, light, refined country dance, turned on a catchy, five-note motif that stuck in one’s head through intermission. The dance picks up speed with each return of the rondo – suggesting perpetual motion – until a giddy, ever-faster ending.
Beethoven’s quintet can sound like Mozart at times. The melodies are often light but complex. But from the first movement, Beethoven introduces more weight – fortissimo chords break up sections of the development. The Romantic Beethoven emerges in hints of wind and lightning within the formal sonata structure of the first movement.
Evans and Díaz shared flowing lyrical melodies in the second movement as rich harmonies supported their song. Near the end of the movement, fortissimo phrases suggested a coming storm, but gentle lyricism returned to end the movement. Again, the additional violist added richness to the sound and texture.
The finale brimmed with Romantic composition at its best. Evans’ violin threw lightning bolts in quick, bold strokes. Other players murmured as a rising wind. Breaks in the storm recalled themes from prior movements. Energy rose as the players jumped on phrases, picked up the pace and filled the air with wind, thunder and lightning. Beethoven’s late string quartets can sound like full string orchestras. By grouping instruments in his quintet in blocks rather than separate voices, Beethoven produced a very convincing storm.
The Beethoven quintet created explosive energy, but the Mozart was more satisfying as a complex and lyrical whole.
The Helen Bader hall in UWM’s Zelazo Center for Performing Arts has a bright acoustic that can affect performances, although a balanced string ensemble less than others. But a persistent heating blower seemed to muffle the sound and was very apparent during quiet passages.
The FAQ’s concerts are free this year, in honor of the quartet’s 65th anniversary. Crowds have been big because of that, and another big crowd is likely at the next concert, on March 6. Reservations are recommended.
(The concert summer series in June is also free. ) This is a great opportunity to experience a local treasure. Also recommended – the excellent Stephen Basson’s prelude talks at 2 p.m. on March 6 and the open rehearsal at noon on March 5.
Wolfgang Laufer has been a key member of the Fine Arts Quartet since 1979. His medical leave will likely last several months, leading to a further substitution for the March 6th concert.