Ying Quartet offers depth and brilliance in rarities at Frost

By Lawrence Budmen

The Ying Quartet

The Ying Quartet jettisoned the originally announced scores by Schumann and Beethoven Tuesday night in favor of rare Haydn and late Mendelssohn string quartets. With Leos Janacek’s Quartet No.2 (Intimate Letters) as the program’s centerpiece, the concert proved a fascinating sampler of less familiar literature. The event at Gusman Concert Hall, was part of the University of Miami Frost School of Music’s Distinguished Visitor Series.

Since its emergence in 1992, the Ying Quartet has amassed an impressive record of outreach to non-traditional concert audiences and has commissioned a diverse group of composers to create new works.

When founding violinist Timothy Ying retired in 2009, Frank Huang assumed the first violin position. Huang blended seamlessly with the three remaining Ying siblings. A strong leader and technically secure player, he never overpowered his colleagues. He appears to share the group’s sonic brilliance, tonal warmth, flexibility and probing musicality.

Haydn’s Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op.33, No.4, was an appropriately sunny opener. This is Papa Haydn at his wittiest and most mischievous. The brightly tuneful opening movement brought forth a burst of virtuosic panache from the Ying foursome. A gentle, stately reading of the  slow movement was succeeded by the courtly, aristocratic minuet, imbued with dignified gravitas seasoned with a touch of impish humor. The quartet’s crisp, fleet version of the finale was alive to Haydn’s inevitable surprises, the unexpected ending beaming a musical smile.

Janacek’s autobiographical Quartet No.2 is a portrait of the sixty-four year old composer’s unrequited passion for a young married woman. A volatile combination of dark romantic despair and Czech folk dance idioms, this impassioned masterpiece abounds in incendiary emotional outbursts. Cellist David Ying broke a string at the outset of the second movement Adagio. After repairing the instrument, the quartet repeated the movement from the top with no loss of concentration or musical intensity. The players easily encompassed the high lying musical line that threads through Janacek’s soaring stream of consciousness. Their ultra-intense performance did full justice to the score’s pensive moodiness and gossamer instrumental colors. Beneath the players’ surface brilliance, an aura of tragic sadness was vividly projected. Violist Timothy Ying’s many solos were distinguished by depth of tone and poignant expressivity.

Composed in the final months of Mendelssohn’s life following the death of his beloved sister Fanny, the Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80 is the composer’s last major work. The entire score is unusually dark and agitated, in many ways the antithesis of Mendelssohn’s typical lyricism. In the Adagio, the composer rises to the somber power of Beethoven in music of great tenderness, imbued with another worldly spirit. The finale is almost a mini-violin concerto, replete with displays of pyrotechnical bravura. Huang overcame all the high-speed hurdles in stellar fashion. Pulling out all the stops, the Ying foursome offered a fast-paced ride through this rarely heard masterwork, cheered by a small but vociferous audience.

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Wed Feb 24, 2010
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