Apollon Musagète Quartet makes impressive Miami debut

By Nevena Stanić Kovačević

The Apollon Musagète Quartet performed music of Suk, Beethoven and Chopin Saturday night at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Friends of Chamber Music has been bringing outstanding artists from Europe for excellent collaborations with local musicians for four decades. Saturday night at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, the audience enjoyed classical chamber repertoire by the Apollon Musagéte Quartet in their Miami debut and in collaboration with pianist Kevin Kenner.

These fine Polish artists (violinists Pawel Załejski and Bartosz Zachłod, violist Piotr Szumieł and cellist Piotr Skweres) won the Munich ARD International Music Contest in 2008 and shortly afterward began touring as the Apollon Musagéte Quartet. Saturday night the quartet came out on stage in custom-made suits and patent leather shoes, and their well-tailored appearance was reflected in their impressive teamwork and musicianship.

The Apollon Musagéte Quartet led off the program with a genuine rarity, Josef Suk’s Meditation on an Old Czech Hymn “St. Wenceslas,” Op. 35a. 

Written at the beginning of World War I, Suk incorporated nods to the title hymn, with an intent to express his national and religious sentiments at a time when his country was dominated by Austro-Hungarian political power. Through this melancholic conversation between musicians, the quartet communicated this piece as a reverie and elegy at the same time, playing with accuracy and warmth. The quartet built to a dramatic crescendo at the coda, wonderfully illuminating the theme in the high register and leaving it to glow in the air with a note of hope.

After showing their interest in 20th-century music, the quartet turned to cornerstone repertoire with Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, no. 3. Beethoven’s early quartet displays all the features of the Classical era through its dialogues, calls and responses, and sudden harmonic and dynamic shifts.

The Apollon Musagéte musicians delivered Beethoven’s quartet with the highest respect for the composer’s early style. The wonderfully executed phrasings and thematic contrasts in the opening Allegro clearly articulated the work’s structure. The echoing effect of piano sections colored the music in contrast with symphonic tuttis. In the Andante con moto, first violinist Załejski brought sophistication to the main theme and Szumieł and Skweres coordinated their ensmeble in serene and homogenous tones. In the ensuing Allegro, the quartet added a romantic aesthetic to the tutti crescendos.

In the Presto finale, all four musicians displayed precise yet characterful playing even at the fast tempo. With little visual cueing between them, Załejski’s harsh accents led the team, in a performance that was polished and enjoyable. 

Kevin Kenner

The second half offered another rarity in the form of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, performed by Kevin Kenner in his own chamber arrangement for backing string quartet and double bass. 

Kenner’s piano was placed behind the rest of the ensemble, which equalized the balancing and created an illusion of a soloist performing in front of an orchestra though there was some initial lack of coordination at the beginning of the first movement. Kenner showed his intention to add to the sound of his creation with the solo part at the beginning of the Maestoso, though the true weight and richness of the arrangement owes much to the inventiveness of the double bass part. With meticulous care for every note, the ensemble delivered Chopin in all its characteristic subtlety. Double bassist Janet Clippard blended into the group sonority and contributed clear and melodic phrasing. 

Kenner communicated the nuances of Chopin’s piano writing in a punctilious yet emotional performance. In a poignant Larghetto, Kenner’s playing was magnificent. The pianist performed with great expressive nuance, giving every note its emotional meaning. In the final movement, the pianist demonstrated great confidence and playfulness, confirming his lifelong and professional dedication to Chopin’s music.

The collaboration between Apollon Musagéte Quartet, Kevin Kenner, and Janet Clippard provided the evening’s highlight and resulted in a standing ovation for these artists.

Friends of Chamber Music’s season continues with soprano Meigui Zhang and pianist Ken Noda 8 p.m. February 25 at Wertheim Performing Arst Center. miamichambermusic.org.

Nevena Stanić Kovačević is a musicologist and double bassist. She graduated from the University of Miami Frost School of Music. Her main fields of study include minimalism and postminimalism, the music of Steve Reich, and Orthodox music. She has performed as a double bassist all over Europe, and is immersed in tango music.

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Sun Feb 2, 2020
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