Ehnes Quartet displays first-class artistry in FOCM opener
A full and enthusiastic house greeted the Ehnes Quartet for the opening concert of Friends of Chamber Music’s season Monday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church. Formed in 2010, the quartet has given impressive concerts on two previous occasions for Julian Kreeger’s series. The players once again offered truly memorable performances in a well-chosen program of Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Schubert.
Mendelssohn was only twenty years old when he penned his String Quartet No. 1 in E-flat major, yet his characteristic gossamer lightness and inspired melodies permeate the score.
The Ehnes Quartet’s warm, full sonority and refined blending of timbres fit this romantic work perfectly. Taking a leisurely, moderate tempo, the musicians cogently shaped the opening movement, bringing supple grace to the melodic lines. A brilliant soloist in his own right, violinist James Ehnes provided strong leadership, the solo passages setting off fireworks with his formidable virtuosity.
In the second violin chair, Amy Schwartz Moretti proved equally outstanding, playing with a dark, singing tone. Individual string lines were clean and transparent in a lithe, classically phrased scherzo. Ehnes’ lustrous sound and intensity were powerfully evident in the third movement Andante while the dramatic undercurrents and brio of the finale were put across with headlong energy.
Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor was written in 1960 in memory of the composer’s first wife Nina. Lasting a mere thirteen minutes, it is the shortest of Shostakovich’s fifteen quartets. The players’ lean, fiercely pitched reading amply communicated the quintessential Shostakovich angst. Brisk, snappy figurations conveyed the music’s darker subtext.
Cellist Robert deMaine’s lightness of touch and violist Richard O’Neill’s burnished strength added depth to the ensemble. Eerie high harmonics from the two violins launched the Lento, the pensive secondary motif moving with an edgy tread. The relentless, mechanized rhythms at the outset of the finale were realized with spot-on accuracy. In the macabre fragments of the coda, the players splendidly assayed the disturbing dance of death.
Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D minor (Death and the Maiden) received a high-powered performance with just the right contrasting touch of Viennese schmaltz and tonal beauty. In the theme and variations of the Andante, Schubert’s song theme was subtly stated, gaining depth and gravity organically. The players’ heavy bow strokes buttressed a hard-driving scherzo and nuanced dynamics with a gradual build up of momentum propelling the final Presto. Throughout the performance, the group’s fresh interpretation made thrice-familiar music sound new again.
As an encore, the quartet offered Wolf’s Italian Serenade in a reading elegant and light as a feather. The Ehnes Quartet’s thoughtful performances and superb playing make a strong case for their belonging to top-tier status among today’s chamber ensembles.
The Friends of Chamber Music season continues 8 p.m. October 1 with an all Schumann program featuring pianist Cyprien Katsaris, violinist Mikhail Simonyan, violist Roberto Diaz and cellist William Da Rosa. 305-372-2975; miamichambermusic.org.
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Tue Sep 24, 2013
at 11:29 am