October 10, 2013
On Saturday Oct. 5, Hamilton community classical musical enthusiasts and casual listeners alike got the opportunity to hear the Brentano String Quartet in Wellin Hall. The veteran group treated audience members to a diverse program, the biggest crowd-pleaser being Debussy’s Quartet in G Minor.
The quartet chose to perform works from the 18th and late 19th centuries, beginning with Mozart’s String Quartet in D-Major, K 575. The quartet is the first of a series of three that a debt-ridden Mozart wrote for Friedrich Wilhelm II, the king of Prussia, in hopes of making some extra money. As Brentano violist Misha Amory writes in the program notes, Mozart may have written the K 575 and its companion quartets with the king’s amateur ear and accomplished cello playing in mind.
The Brentano delivered a graceful performance of the piece, the standout moment being cellist Nina Lee’s soaring solo in the third movement, Menuetto-Allegretto. Amory also did a good job serving as a steady motor with his unwavering eighth notes in the fourth movement.
Next, the Brentano attacked Beethoven’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95. The piece, though most often classified as one of the middle period quartets, is “philosophically cut from another cloth, a prescient gateway to the late style,” writes Brentano first violinist Mark Steinberg. Steinberg goes on to describe the Quartet as “a rather tortured piece,” which the composer himself nicknamed “serioso.”
The ensemble jumped into the Allegro con brio’s first dark, opening figure with an energetic ferocity markedly different from anything it had shown during the Mozart, but appropriately so. And when Steinberg and second violinist Serena Canin answered with the second, high E-string singing theme, they indeed conveyed well the torturous sentiment Steinberg names in the program notes.
The players’ intensity continued into the Allegretto-Allegro, at one point causing Canin to break a bow hair. Easily transitioning into a thoughtful expressivity for the slower Larghetto, the Brentano finished the piece at the Allegro triumphantly. Their bows flew into the air in unison to a satisfied, but not overzealous applause.
After intermission, the Brentano finished their performance in good faith with the well-known Debussy String Quartet. The late 19th-century composer strived to write music that was distinctly French, playing with textures in ways that, at the time, were revolutionary for classical music. Many moments in the Quartet reflect this goal.
The Brentano’s interpretation certainly did the piece justice. As each player took turns in the spotlight, the other three faithfully supported with muted, fluttering trills and other transparent figures, adeptly recreating Debussy’s written layers. For this work, the slow third movement, Andantino doucement espressif, stood out from the rest. Lee’s singing opening solo took audience members to a whole new land and the ensuing melodies in the rest of the strings, warm and rich in tone, clearly left them enchanted. In the final movement, Très Modéré, the players reminded us that they can rattle off 16th notes just as well as coax a slow melody out of their instruments. The audience gave the quartet a rightfully deserved standing ovation.