Fine Arts Quartet/Quintet closes summer season

By - Jun 30th, 2011 04:43 pm

Ronald Thomas

A wistful, even sombre note closed the Fine Arts Quartet’s summer season Wednesday (June 29), at the UWM Zelazo Center.

For me, a Fine Arts Quartet concert begins with MSO emeritus Stephen Basson’s pre-talk. In a thorough examination of Mozart’s G minor works, Basson set the stage for the highlight of the concert – Mozart’s Quintet in G minor, K 516. He noted that the quintet opens on a sorrowful note, descending into deeper tragic sections until a contrasting conclusion. Critics refer to “searing pain .. despair .. fatalism” throughout the work.

The Fine Arts Quartet (violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico and violist Nicolo Eugelmi, supplemented by guest cellist Ronald Thomas and violist Anthea Kreston) delivered something other than that. The driving energy of the first movement, led by Evans’ violin, strode so insistently that cries and sighs seemed less consequential. Even the second movement offered a tender melody just up to the abrupt slashes in the score that rudely interrupt the “dance.” The pace slowed for the third movement, as the players shared in the melancholic theme. The loveliness of the melody, as voiced by Evans, distracted me from the underlying anguish. The last movement opens with a G minor dirge, only to turn on a dime toward a lively G major rondo. Despite the somber tone, the melodies are lovely and the pace generally brisk.

Anthea Kreston. Photo courtesy of the artist’s website.

The concert opened with a fast-paced, tightly executed String Quintet in C Major, Opus 88, by  Joseph Haydn’s younger brother Michael. The work begins with a light dance, often led by first violinist, Evans. The pace occasionally slows, but only to catch a breath before picking up again. Evans  and violist Eugelmi share a melody in the second movement. The first violin echoes phrases begun by the viola. Elements are deconstructed until the violin reassembles the entire melody to extend the cycle. Thomas supported the pleasant game of toss with a basso continuo role in the cello. After another third movement dance, the finale starts with a rush. Almost immediately, the players shift into an even faster pace. This whirlwind remains light-hearted as players exchange themes, suggesting perpetual motion until the abrupt conclusion.

Verdi wrote his sole quartet, the String Quartet in E minor, 100 years after Haydn’s. The cello has gained equal footing with other instruments; it carries the second theme of the opening movement, for example. Dialog with the cello rises with energetic exchanges, then quickly descends – to start again. A lilting second movement features harmonies supporting songs by first and second violins. The third movement scampers along with a light touch until broken by a central section that reminds of Verdi’s primary occupation, as a composer of grand opera. Thomas’ cello breaks into a tenor aria of great beauty, if not quite up to Placido Domingo in full voice. The finale is a scherzo fuga – themes tossed among players until to an energetic conclusion by led by Evans.

The international reputation of the Fine Arts Quartet is less recognized in Milwaukee. Historically, a small, loyal audience has followed group. Last season and through the summer, donors have arranged free admission to Fine Arts Quartet concerts, and the audience has about doubled. Further support has assured free admission to concerts through the 2011-12 season. Stephen Basson will continue pre-concert talks through then, as well. Call the UWM Peck School of the Arts box office, 414 229-4308 or see the website for more information.

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