Delray String Quartet displays grace and energy in Coral Gables debut

By Lawrence Budmen

The Delray String Quartet

The Palm Beach County-based Delray String Quartet began an ambitious program of expansion to Broward and Miami-Dade counties with a concert Friday night at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Coral Gables before a small but highly enthusiastic audience.  A compact program of chamber music masterworks by Beethoven and Franck comprised the bill of fare with some Dvorak added for good measure.

From the first strongly accented notes of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C minor, Op.18, No.4. the Delray group was distinguished by tight ensemble and thoughtfully conceived interpretations. The musicians exhibited that special blend of graceful sweetness and energetic thrust that mark the best Beethoven performances.

Their incisive approach to the opening movement was cogently stated, maintaining momentum through Beethoven’s arc of light and shade. The Andante was allowed a modicum of elegance while the Menuetto was assayed with unusual urgency. An edgy, tense reading of the Allegro finale concluded a performance that brought fresh vitality to thrice-familiar music.

Violinist Mei Mei Luo is a decisive, powerful leader while Lazlo Pap produces a warm, true core of tone in the second chair. Violist Richard Fleischman’s big sound and musical athleticism stand out impressively. Cellist Claudio Jaffe, the quartet’s newest member, exhibits sterling musicianship and finely attuned chamber sensibilities. Collectively this foursome offer perceptive, insightful performances that avoid the monotony of routine. Their richly blended timbres resounded in the very reverberant church acoustics.

Pianist Tao Lin joined the quartet for Cesar Franck’s too rarely heard Piano Quintet in F minor. Like the composer’s more popular Symphony in D minor and Violin Sonata, this score employs cyclical themes which recur in the course of the work’s three movements.

Lin had plenty of pianistic power and nimble-fingered dexterity for the keyboard’s dramatic outbursts but avoided the temptation to turn the music into a solo showpiece. His sensitive touch and affinity for Franck’s Gallic brand of grandiose romanticism dovetailed subtly with the string players’ finely spun phrasing and sense of line and structure. This splendid collaboration between musical soulmates encompassed the tempest-tossed melodrama of the first movement, pensive calm of the Lento and rhapsodic vistas of the finale. Franck’s surging intensity was vividly evoked without a hint of bombast or heavy handedness.

As an encore, Lin and the Delray players offered a relaxed account of the Scherzo from Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A Major that savored the bucolic joys of this scintillating vignette.

The Delray String Quartet repeats the program 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Colony Hotel in Delray Beach. 561-213-4138;

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Sat Dec 5, 2009
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