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In performance: Szymanowski Quartet

Web-only review:

Polish foursome shines in DC debut
by Tom Huizenga

It's no surprise that the Szymanowski Quartet is barely known here. The Polish group, formed in Warsaw in 1995, has only two CDs available and had never played in Washington before Friday night's appearance at the Library of Congress. But after hearing the ensemble's warm sound, smart musicianship and detailed interpretations, it's clear that wider recognition is overdue.
(read more after the jump)

Haydn's Quartet in C ("Emperor") had its elegance and wit in all the right places -- from the Allegro's rustic dance, in which the cello mimics a wheezy bagpipe, to the jaunty Menuetto and to an unusually soulful set of variations on Haydn's own tune ("God save the Emperor"), which gives the piece its nickname.

The ensemble also played music by its namesake in the Szymanowski Second String Quartet. Its jagged folk rhythms, swooping glissandos and isolated moments of calm evoked the rugged landscape of the composer's beloved Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. Just about every sound imaginable from a quartet gets squeezed out of this difficult music, which the Szymanowskis delivered with authentic panache.

Mendelssohn's Quartet in D (Op. 44) couldn't have made a stronger contrast. Once criticized as an anemic reflection of the composer's bourgeois lifestyle, this explosion of melody is like a day filled with sunshine and spring flowers. Here, the Szymanowskis shone brightest, especially first violinist Andrej Bielow, who effortlessly soared and trilled and negotiated flurries of runs. Cellist Marcin Sieniawski was equally spirited, setting off sizzling tremolos in the finale, which, at its bravura finish, brought many listeners instantly to their feet.

After this impressive Washington debut, one can only hope this quartet returns soon, and often.

-- Tom Huizenga

By Anne Midgette  |  November 9, 2009; 2:28 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Thank you for your excellent review, Mr Huizenga.

On a related note, I see that the program booklet to the performance two summers ago of both Szymanowski string quartets – by the Royal String Quartet, from Poland -- at the National Gallery of Art is still available online.

The program note booklet (covering more than two dozen works by Central European composers, of whom several were murdered by the German Nazis) reproduces a photograph of a blind European musician and some children in 1921 in Albony, Central Hungary. The photo was taken by André Kertész, and was a gift to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. by The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation.

I imagine that both the blind violinist and most of the children shown in the photograph were murdered by the German Nazis over the next two decades.

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 9, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

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