Delray Quartet opens season with new member, richer sound

By David Fleshler

The Delray String Quartet performed music of Haydn, Fuchs, and Brahms at its season-opening concert Friday night in Fort Lauderdale.

The Delray String Quartet opened its seventh season Friday in Fort Lauderdale with a new second violinist and a much tighter, richer ensemble sound.

The second violin chair had been a center of instability for the quartet, just as the group was expanding from its Delray Beach base to Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Longtime member Lazslo Pap resigned early this year. He was replaced last season by Megan McClendon, who has now been replaced by the young Argentine violinist Tomas Cotik.

Cotik, a former member of the New World Symphony and a teaching assistant and doctoral student at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, made his debut with the quartet at Friday’s concert at All Saints Episcopal Church. While it’s unclear whether Cotik’s presence was the reason, the quartet—always one of the brighter stars on the local music scene—played with greater authority, cohesiveness and consistency than in the past.

Haydn’s Quartet in C major, Op. 33, No. 3, The Bird came off with remarkably clean but never overly polite playing. The minor-key section in the first movement was pensive and brooding. The Scherzo had just the right touch of humor, and the Adagio inspired the quartet to darkly dramatic playing, with intense performances by first violinist Mei Mei Luo and cellist Claudio Jaffé. The last movement brought more crisp playing, with just enough bite.

The American composer Kenneth Fuchs, currently professor of composition at the University of Connecticut, attended the concert to introduce his String Quartet No. 4. Fuchs, a South Florida native who studied at Juilliard with David Diamond, Milton Babbitt and Vincent Persichetti, composed the work in 1998 on a commission from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music for its resident Bergonzi String Quartet.

“As a composer I want my music to be very direct and accessible,” he told the audience before the performance. “I don’t want it to be overtly pretty, but I think communication is very important.”

The one-movement, 11-minute work had an energetic, optimistic American sound, with open harmonies reminiscent of Aaron Copland and melodies that were soaring and lyrical without being cloying. It opened with repeated, minimalist figures in the viola, gained in force as the other instruments came in and used harmonics in the violins to achieve ghostly, wispy effects. After building to an impassioned, melodic climax, the pace picked up quickly and the work surged toward a swift and abrupt but effective ending.

The concert concluded with the Brahms Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2. If the performance lacked the relaxed Viennese feeling that much of the music seemed to call for—as in the second theme of the first movement—it was an intensely focused and tonally rich account. The quartet achieved an almost symphonic depth of tone in the agitated, tremolo section of the second movement. The last movement came off with ferocious bite, but with a measured pace that allowed the drama to come through.

As an encore, in honor of the new violinist’s roots in Argentina, the quartet played a transcription of Melody by Astor Piazzolla, a smoky, romantic few minutes played with warm sensuality.

The Delray String Quartet repeats the program 4 p.m. Sunday at The Colony Hotel and Cabaña Club, Delray Beach; and 4 p.m. Dec. 12 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Coconut Grove. delraystringquartet; 561-213-4138.

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Sat Dec 4, 2010
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