Fiterstein and New York Philharmonic Quartet make beautiful Mozart together

By Lawrence Budmen

The New York Philharmonic String Quartet performed music of Mozart and Dvořák Tuesday night at Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ.

Clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein has been performing at concerts of Miami’s Friends of Chamber Music for 22 years. On several occasions, he has played Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with various chamber groups. 

Fiterstein returned on Tuesday night to once again play the Mozart masterpiece. This time his collaborators were the New York Philharmonic String Quartet and the performance at Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ achieved a new level of artistry.

The annual visits of the four first-chair New York string players have produced consistently distinguished concerts. On the lower end, cellist Carter Brey and violist Cynthia Phelps’ sound palette and beauty of phrasing were particularly distinguished. First violin Frank Huang’s sweetness of tone and projection melded winningly with the mellow, woody spectrum of Fierstein’s clarinet.

Alexander Fiterstein

The group’s corporate string sonority was warm and well-integrated with Fiterstein. The clarinetist’s dexterity and musicianship produced elegant Mozart without any heaviness or calling attention to itself. In the Larghetto, he spun one of Mozart’s most sublime melodies in long, flowing paragraphs. There was refreshing vigor in the players’ approach to the Menuetto. Fiterstein’s flourishes in the second trio were precisely articulated and finely chiseled. 

The final theme and variations were charming yet crisp and tautly controlled. Fiterstein’s showed total mastery and consummate command of his instrument. The robust coda, with Fiterstein lightly sailing over airy strings, capped a performance that set a standard for classical stylishness and spontaneity of expression.

Eschewing overplayed quartet staples, the Philharmonic players offered Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 11 in C Major, Op. 61. Written in 1881, eleven years before the composer landed in New York to begin his historic American sojourn, the score is larger in scope than many of Dvořák’s other chamber compositions. Lasting nearly 38 minutes, the quartet mixes the Czech master’s signature nostalgia and folk-dance infusions with darker Brahmsian undertones.

Violinists Huang and Qianqian Li’s brilliant execution and flawless intonation captured the drama and momentum of the stormy central episode of the initial Allegro. Phelps’ viola was rich and lustrous and strongly present. In the romanza-like Poco adagio, Huang’s soft playing was meltingly beautiful and effectively illustrated Dvořák’s distinctive brand of national lyricism.

The contrasting Czech themes of the Allegro vivo were alternately imbued with incisive verve and resolute calmness. In the final vivace, the New York foursome brought out both the festive dance infused gaiety and more poignant underpinnings. The entire performance was a vivid demonstration of chamber music-making at the highest level.

Friends of Chamber Music present the Hermitage Piano Trio 8 p.m. January 30 at Coral Gables Congregation United Church of Christ.

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