Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ensemble Music Society ends its 71st season reconnecting with the Ying Quartet and guest Zuill Bailey

No one pined for an encore after the magnificent second half of Ensemble Music's season finale Wednesday night at the Indiana History Center.

But an irreverent cap could have been put on the Ying Quartet concert by a string arrangement of the
The Ying Quartet with its usual current personnel
old chestnut "There'll Be Some Changes Made."

The second half — Schubert's magisterial two-cello string quintet in C — was intact, except for one of the changes. Second violinist Janet Ying has a shoulder injury, leaving two of the founding family members on hand: violist Phillip Ying and cellist David Ying.  Jessica Lee, second violinist of the Johannes Quartet,  sat in for her.

A permanent change in the other violin chair is in the offing. First violinist Ayano Ninomiya will leave at the end of the season, to be replaced by Indianapolis' own Robin Scott.

Zuill Bailey had a programming notion.
And guest cellist Zuill Bailey surprised everyone by stopping after the Prelude to J.S. Bach's Suite No. 3 in C major to announce that he felt more like playing the first of the six suites instead. He had visited Eskenazi Hospital that afternoon and played the G major for patients. "I want to start at the beginning of Bach's journey with solo cello," he explained.

Bailey also contributed the information (gleaned in part from John Failey, EMS president) that his 1693 instrument was formerly at home in the Budapest String Quartet, a 16-time guest of the society between 1944 and 1960.

The Matteo Goffriller instrument sounded magnificent throughout the suite. The Prelude, which Bailey noted often is greeted by sighs, unfolded in sigh-worthy fashion. (Peter Schickele used it in one of his classical mash-ups as accompaniment to "Brazil," best-known in Frank Sinatra's 1957 recording.) The Allemande was distinguished by its elegant trills and reflective separation of phrases.

His echo effects were often stunning: The first repeat in the Sarabande sounded like the melody, played the same way, coming from a neighboring room. The dance pulse in the two Minuets was gently impelled, with the second one going smoothly from piano to pianissimo in the repeat. The robustness of the concluding Gigue was rounded off with a graceful diminuendo at the very end.

On its own, the Ying Quartet offered Schumann's Quartet in F major, op. 41, no. 2.  The substitute member fitted right in with this stirring interpretation of a slightly mysterious work, full of elfin fancies and shadowy episodes, especially in the third movement.

The concert's piece de resistance was Schubert's Quintet in C major, D. 956, a summation of the short-lived composer's most searching yet cohesive chamber-music ideas. The work goes so many places harmonically and melodically, with such surprising yet effective changes of mood, that its length of nearly 50 minutes is no burden. Played this well, with Bailey and the Ying Quartet in perfect rapport, it was something special. An instantaneous, sustained standing ovation greeted its conclusion. Wonder after wonder was crowned with a dizzying coda nailed down by a grinding, minor-second, triple-forte unison.

How the Ying Quartet will look starting next season.
Many episodes, so brightly "sung" by the quintet, prompted the thought that with a longer life, more establishment connections and better librettos, Schubert would be known to us as one of the masters of opera. Those are three big "ifs," however. But it occurred to me that the stately first-movement melody initially presented by the two cellos, recurring in a first-cello/viola partnership, foreshadows a couple of the great tenor-baritone duets in Verdi (Don Carlo, Otello). The astonishing outburst in the middle of the slow movement seems an operatic ambassador-without-portfolio.  And the strangest "Trio" section of a Scherzo ever written, an episode seemingly wracked with pain, hints at some vast interior drama that must have gone to Schubert's early grave with him.

Suffice it to say that everything about the performance was exquisitely balanced and full-heartedly projected. Decorative elements were never mindlessly dispatched, and every transitional passage was treated as important (notably a soft, hesitant "walking back" of that stormy episode in the Adagio). Accents were vigorous and the phrases they punctuated overflowing with a take-no-prisoners zest. It was a performance that properly deserved to be called unforgettable.

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