Fine Arts Quartet Goes Back to Basics

The group's concert on Sunday emphasizes romantic fare, with works by Schumann, Saint Saens and Haydn.

By - Apr 29th, 2015 01:55 pm
Fine Arts Quartet - violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, cellist Robert Cohen and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez

Fine Arts Quartet – violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, cellist Robert Cohen and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez

The Fine Arts Quartet finishes their 2014-15 Milwaukee concert series at 3:00 PM, Sunday May 3rd at the UW-Milwaukee Zelazo Center. The series this season has offered some extraordinarily inventive programming – a quartet/soprano version of Joseph Haydn‘s Last Words of Christ, a contemporary quartet/accordion work commissioned  by the Fine Arts Quartet from Russian composer Efram Podgaits and a “lost” 18th century arrangement by Jan Ladislav Dussek for quartet and two pianos that may not have been heard since its first performance. The Fine Arts Quartet (violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, cellist Robert Cohen and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez) will top those performances by returning to the basic repertoire they do so well – classical music masterpieces for quartet alone.

I had the opportunity to discuss the program with Cohen.

The care and precision of the quartet is best represented by their mastery of the classical era repertoire of Mozart and Haydn. This concert will open with a mid-career work by Joseph Haydn – String Quartet in C major, Op 33, No 3, better known as “The Bird.” The nickname will be obvious. The first violin chirps insistently at several points, sometimes joined by the others.

Cohen finds the work “full of humor and lightness and brilliance.” As to the nickname – “The birds are in there, but it is not just about them.” He points out the virtuoso challenges in the final movement. The rapid shifts in timing are further enhanced by the Fine Arts Quartet’s use of rubato – expressive shaping of the music by slight slowing and speeding up the tempo. “Ralph (Evans) will be in his element,” Cohen says.

A shorter work by Camille Saint-Saens – his second and last quartet, String Quartet in G major, No 2, Op 153 — offers a less nuanced composition focused more upon the overall atmosphere of the piece. As a “late Romantic” composition, form is less important than lyrical expression. Cohen finds a “sense of delicate latticed kind of mood (that creates) an intimate feeling.”

First violinist Evans reflected on Saint-Saens quartets in the album notes for a Naxos recording of the two quartets by the Fine Arts Quartet in 2011.  “Saint-Saëns has been unfairly tarnished as being a lightweight composer,” Evans wrote. “Listening to these serious, intellectual, brilliantly crafted yet delightful works will change minds in a hurry.”

Composer Robert Schumann

Composer Robert Schumann

The program will close with one of Robert Schumann‘s masterworks – String Quartet in A minor, Op 41, No 1. While other Schumann works are “full of joy”, Cohen observes, “this is more profound .. an amazing structure with more depth.” Three virtuoso movements culminate in an energy-filled finale that can be breath-taking when played well. The pace is broken by lovely adagio that serves as the third of the four movements. Cohen finds the adagio “incredibly exciting” and “deeply romantic.”

The Fine Arts Quartet published an album of the three Op. 41 Schumann quartets on Naxos in 2006. The recording was hailed by the American Record Guide as “one of the very finest chamber music recordings of the year.”

The quartet begins their Summer Evenings of Music Sunday, May 31 at 7:30 PM with additional Sunday evening concerts on June 7, 14 and 28.  Details of the summer concerts are posted on the Peck School website.

The May 3rd concert will be preceded by a pre-talk at 2:00 P.M. Tickets may be purchased on-line at the Peck School of the Arts box office or at (414) 229-4308. Tickets are a bargain $10 ($5 students). Parking is available in the Zelazo Center lot, to the south of the building, and in the Union parking garage across Kenwood Boulevard. Parking is free on Sundays only.

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