Thursday, December 12, 2019

Dover Quartet adds pianist for quintet to crown concert for Ensemble Music

Ensemble Music president John Failey took note of the unusual placement of the society's second concert of the season Wednesday as he introduced the Dover Quartet to the audience at the Glick Indiana History Center.
The Dover Quartet, shown here in a New York radio studio appearance

Finding a date, he said, to bring to town this string quartet, based at Northwestern University, and the busy Israeli-born New York pianist Inon Barnatan meant the holiday-season scheduling of a program without a whiff of Christmastide about it.

Inon Barnatan was crucial to an outstanding Shostakovich performance.
No matter: Despite the minor mode signaled in the title, the piece bringing the five players onstage had the catchy tunes of the Scherzo and the Finale to buoy the spirits. Dmitri Shostakovich, who husbanded his cheerfulness carefully and sometimes wryly, sent the capacity crowd away happily via this stellar performance of the Piano Quintet in G minor, op. 57.

Barnatan sparked the rendition, and ignition was assured from the opening piano statement on. After the hard-hitting first movement, a slow fugue amply underlined the tension the Soviet composer usually kept under precise control. The performance of the second movement evinced his patented long-suffering patience as it unfolded.

The flashy Scherzo was well-articulated and rich in dynamic contrast. After the slow Intermezzo, the transition to the Allegretto finale displayed masterly suspense. As the expansive work reveled in its conclusion, the pianist's bright tone was dazzling and the string players matched his brilliance in the course of a movement dominated by a peppy march.

Before intermission, the Dover Quartet — violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw — played a fascinating work by Shostakovich's friend and younger contemporary Benjamin Britten. Written shortly before "Peter Grimes," which made the British composer's international reputation, the Quartet No. 1 in D major bears in its first movement signs of the lyricism and eeriness of that opera. There was abundant rhythmic acuity and sensitivity to Britten's wealth of color in the course of the four movements. I especially enjoyed how the individualistic gestures that burst forth in the third movement, "Andante calmo," seemed to prime the pump for further, coordinated lyricism. The elfin zest with which the finale was dispatched was among the concert's notable marvels.

The Dover launched its appearance with an impulsive but well-knit account of Beethoven's Quartet in F minor, op. 95, dubbed "Serioso" after a word in the heading of its third movement. The atmosphere suggested by the word was sustained, even through the lickety-split coda of the finale. The dour feeling of the slow movement, with its downward sliding phrases, had notable sweetness from the first violin and striking plangency of viola tone. The transition to the namesake "serioso" third movement was excellent, a foreshadowing of the connections the quartet was to forge along with the pianist in the Shostakovich.

Who needs Christmas music two weeks before Christmas? was my probably irreverent response to this captivating concert.

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