Fine Arts Quartet’s Summer Finale

Three unusual works by Mozart, Strauss and Tchaikovsky earned a standing ovation.

By - Jun 30th, 2014 03:15 pm
Violist Gil Sharon.

Guest violist Gil Sharon.

In their fourth summer concert, yesterday at the at the UW-Milwaukee Zelazo Center, the Fine Arts Quartet introduced romantic classical works with a twist: a Mozart transcription of a Wind Serenade, a sextet which plays a feature role in a Richard Strauss opera and a rare Tchaikovsky chamber work named after the city of Florence, yet featuring Russian themes. The Quartet was joined by violist, Gil Sharon and cellist, Alexander Hülshoff for a viola quintet and two sextets. (Sharon, director and first violinist for the Amati Ensemble, has joined the Fine Arts Quartet as a violist on several occasions.)

One of Mozart’s 6 string quintets, “String Quintet No 2, KV 406” began as a transcription of “Wind Serenade No 12, K 388” – a work for 8 wind players. The contrasting colors of wind instruments cannot be replicated, but Mozart wrote melodies worth recycling. The FAQ (violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez and cellist Robert Cohen) and Sharon retained a light, drawing room quality as individual instruments were able to expose melodies over restrained support from the others. Although usually relegated to a counterpoint role, cellist Cohen seemed to provide the rhythmic pacing for the others. Texture and tone was enhanced as two or three instruments often dropped out.The light final movement featured eight variations that allowed individuals and duets the spotlight.

Cellist Alexander Hulshoff

Guest cellist Alexander Hulshoff

Richard Strauss wrote a string sextet to serve as the subject of an opera, Capriccio. Two suitors, a poet and composer, seek the hand of a countess. Are words or music are more important? The opera opens with this impressive composition – meant to win the audience and countess to Strauss’ point of view. The short work introduces a melody as though in midstream. The pace in Sunday’s performance was often timeless, as the emphasis shifted effortlessly to one or another player over a uniform accompaniment. The work is unceasingly romantic, returning again and again to nearly the same melody, and fades to silence after 12 short minutes. The opera does not resolve the question, but the players Sunday evening took every opportunity to make the case for music.

In strong contrast to the restrained exposition of the other works, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s sextet, “Souvenir de Florence, Op 70,” was a blockbuster. Presented on a symphonic scale, the work begins with all players attacking a lively dance. The pace rarely lets up for any of the players, although on occasion, the supporting lines are more subdued. Evans introduced a lovely second theme in the opening movement, one of several extraordinary melodies throughout the work.

Duets between violinist Evans and cellist Cohen as well as between Evans and violist Herandez were featured in the second cantabile movement over a very soft pizzacato accompaniment. The melodies were interrupted by a highly textured ensemble section with players skating over the strings – a finely coordinated rising and falling in unison. Ensemble choral sections offered moments of contemplation. Impassioned lines on Hernandez’s viola framed the movement.

The scherzo featured rapidly changing ensemble playing as the sextet ricocheted from impassioned bowing to quick pizzicato. The rapid dance briefly became a full gallop. But the movement ended as it began, with an complex, intense motif cycling again and again at the pace of a march.

The final movement opened with a Russian peasant dance that grew increasingly spirited. A fugal melody passed the energy from player to player as the drama built to a high energy conclusion.

Cheers and an immediate standing ovation greeted the players.

This was the final concert in the Summer Evenings of Music series. The Fine Arts Quartet’s 2014-15 season in Milwaukee has not been formally announced, but it will play at the Zelazo Center on September 21st and November 9th in 2014 and February 1st and May 3rd in 2015. Check the Friends of the Fine Arts Quartet ( ) or Peck School of the Arts ( ) web sites for additional information.

0 thoughts on “Classical: Fine Arts Quartet’s Summer Finale”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wish I had been able to be there to hear the rare Tchaikovsky chamber work (did you know that Tchaikovsky was Ukrainian? I do, since my parents came to America from Ukraine). Thanks for your review!

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