Fine Arts Quartet opens Summer Evenings of Music

The FAQ and pianist Xiayin Wang give apt performances of music by Beethoven, Efrem Zimbalist and Faure.

By - Jun 11th, 2012 04:28 pm

Sunday evening, the Fine Arts Quartet and guest pianist Xiayin Wang opened the FAQ’s annual Summer Evenings of Music series at UWM. Their program comprised the familiar (Beethoven’s String Quartet Opus 18, No. 2), the unfamiliar (Efrem Zimbalist’s Quartet in E Minor) and the in-between (Fauré’s Piano Quintet from 1920).



Is Beethoven a Classical composer, in the tradition of Haydn and Mozart, or a Romantic harbinger of the world of Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler? It depends on who’s playing. Violinist Ralph Evans, second violinist Efim Boico, violist Nicolò Eugelmi and cellist Robert Cohen placed Beethoven’s quartet firmly in the Classical: clean and simple. Their subtle shadings of articulation and rubato brought out the architecture of the piece and put the right turn of phrase to Beethoven’s very Classical rhetoric. Everything was properly located and in proper proportion.


A 1948 promotional flyer for Efrem Zimbalist.

The Zimbalist quartet was most interesting to me. Efrem Zimbalist is best known as a violinist (or as the father of Efrem Jr. and grandfather of Stephanie). Composing is a footnote to his biography. The Fine Arts Quartet’s performance of his String Quartet in E minor suggests that re-evaluation is in order. It is in many ways the perfect foil to the Beethoven, which it followed. This prime example of 20th-century Romanticism, full of rhapsodic flights of fancy, contrasted with Beethoven’s tight structure. The title of Zimbalist’s first movement — Fantasia– fits the quartet as a whole. Much of its excitement rises from the extremes and contrasts: passages of modal monophony give way to ripely chromatic counterpoint, and somber, introverted textures suddenly give way to showers of pyrotechnics. The players gave Zimbalist the same attention to detail and style they gave Beethoven.


Gabriel Faure in 1907. Public domain via Wikipedia Commons.

As Stephen Basson pointed out in his pre-concert talk, the music of Fauré is not so well-known in the United States. Basson suggested that this might be due to Fauré’s preference for smaller forms and genres, such as songs and chamber music. But I wonder whether Debussy and Ravel, Fauré’s younger compatriots, might also figure in this relative neglect. In any case, the Fine Arts and pianist Wang showed the same concern for Fauré’s musical language as the string players did with Beethoven’s and Zimbalist’s. With Fauré’s quintet, things were more fluid than with the Beethoven but less than with the Zimbalist. They responded to Fauré’s essence, which is not-quite Impressionist but still Romantic. Again, everything was properly located and proportion.

All in all this was a very pleasant summer evening of music, to which the audience responded with rapt silence and enthusiastic applause. I look forward to next week’s program, of Haydn, Beethoven, and Dohnányi.

The four Summer Evenings of Music occur at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where the quartet is in residence. They play in the Helen Bader Concert Hall at the Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts,. 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd. Admission is free, but tickets are required; call the Peck School of the Arts box office, 414 229-4308.

Editor’s note: The Zimbalist flyer is from Vintage Ad Browser. Fascinating stuff there.

Bookmark the TCD Guide to keep track of the 2012-13 performing arts season on one webpage. Thanks to Matthew Reddin for making it and to the Florentine Opera for sponsoring it.

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