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11.3.09

Brentano Quartet and Serkin Astonish


Brentano String Quartet -- (L to R) Mark Steinberg, Serena Canin, Misha Amory, Nina Lee (photo by Christian Steiner)
On Sunday afternoon, the stellar Shriver Hall Concert Series presented the Brentano String Quartet joined by pianist Peter Serkin and baritone Thomas Meglioranza. The Brentano Quartet maintained their reputation as coherent programmers in a program of Haydn, their 2008 piano quintet commission by Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938), Schoenberg (Wuorinen’s musical idol), and Beethoven.

Haydn’s Quartet in D Minor, op. 76, no. 2 (“Quinten”) provided charm, perfect intonation, and motivic fun based upon the interval of the fifth. Performing in a burstingly energetic way while never being ragged, the Brentano’s virtuosity in all genres was remarkable, even more so considering that all are equal partners in terms of intensity and musical leadership. The Brentano’s hesitation before upbeats in the second movement (Andante), depth of affect in the third movement (“Witches’ Minuet”), and the perfect intricacy of the final movement’s Vivace make this ensemble one worth traveling a distance to experience in concert.

Contemporary music specialist Peter Serkin joined the team for Charles Wuorinen’s Piano Quintet No. 2, commissioned and premiered in 2008 by the Brentano Quartet. Given that it is now the 21st century and despite an impeccable performance, Wuorinen’s vigilant neo-serialism was seemingly dated and stuck in academia. Its lack of color and inventiveness left one’s mind to wander. It was only after a substantial amount of time that any of the five musicians played lines together. Endless abrupt attacks were later balanced by a semblance of lushness. One is still keen to hear Wuorinen’s operatic adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain, planned for New York City Opera but now with its fate uncertain since the resignation of Gerard Mortier.


Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Brentano Quartet, Serkin in bold program at Shriver Hall (Clef Notes, March 10)
The dynamic baritone Thomas Meglioranza joined the piano quintet in Schoenberg’s setting of Byron’s poem Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte, op. 41. Schoenberg calls for an emotionally nuanced Sprechstimme that is directed rhythmically. With tone rows that harbor tonal potential, Schoenberg created a wildly alive composition that furthered the poem’s anti-imperial fervor, ending by mentioning George Washington as the way forward. Was this work programmed to contrast Schoenberg’s serialism to Wuorinen’s or as a political snicker at our most recent former President? The work ends with an E-flat major chord, a nod to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, famously dedicated to Napoleon for a period before Beethoven reconsidered. The program concluded with Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge performed in a rather harried way; it might have been stronger with more poise and less effort. In fairness, gentler sections and dynamic swells were a very effective contrast to a very loud opening.

The next concert at Shriver Hall is not to be missed, an evening of Schubert songs performed by tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Julius Drake (April 5, 5:30 pm).

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