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In performance: Del Sol Quartet

Web-only review:

Del Sol Quartet offers delicate interplay in contemporary program
by Joan Reinthaler

The Del Sol Quartet's latest album, "Ring of Fire," includes Chinary Ung's "In Memoriam," which they played at the National Gallery on Sunday.

It's been a long time coming, but the folks in charge of concerts at the National Gallery of Art have finally found a way to tame the West Garden Court's unruly acoustics. The shell that stood behind Sunday evening's performers, the Del Sol String Quartet, reflected and focused the music of a fascinating and exquisitely played program accurately and clearly. May 68 seasons of muddy echoes rest in peace!

And in the nick of time. This was a program full of delicate sonic interplay, from the slow sliding portamentos and stinging pizzicatos of Pawel Szymanski's "Five Pieces" and the vocalizing that turned Chinary Ung's "Spiral X: In Memoriam" (for amplified string quartet) into an octet, to the subtle impressionistic colors of Philip Glass's Quartet No. 5.
(read more after the jump)

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Each of Szymanski's pieces creates its own sonic environment, but throughout lurks a Baroque shadow: an arpeggio figure in the fourth piece, Baroque harmonies in the fifth and, amid the slithering, Gaudi-like architecture of the opening, a background of 18th-century right angles and predictability. Ensemble and balances, so important here, were beautifully gauged and, thanks to the shell, actually heard.

Ung's "In Memoriam," written to commemorate the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, is a remarkably peaceful-sounding work. The members of the quartet are required to sing as they play, and their vocal lines on meaningless syllables (with gratifyingly restrained amplification) added a sense of reverence and, at times, intensity, to what was a touching piece.

In this company, Tania León's "Esencia" (the three movements named after different colognes) seemed aimless -- a lot of activity and nods to "outside-the-box" techniques but little that defined itself. And Glass's quartet of intriguing ruminations and micro-variations on germs of ideas, with its solid and reliable cello foundation, sounded almost old hat.

-- Joan Reinthaler

By Anne Midgette  |  April 13, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  Add category  | Tags: contemporary, quartet  
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Thank you. This excellent WP review makes me very sorry that I had to miss this NGA concert.

Despite the reviewer finding that the Philip Glass Quartet No. 5 sounded “almost old hat,” I hope that classical WETA-FM recorded this concert and will broadcast it in the near future. (Hundreds of thousands of U.S. and foreign music students are introduced to the string quartet music of Philip Glass each year through its inclusion in both the Norton, and the Kerman and Tomlinson, recorded anthologies of Western music.)

Given that this is Census 2010 week, it might also be worth pointing out that the “post- Eurocentric” Del Sol Quartet performed three string quartets by American composers – Chinary Ung, Tania León, and Philip Glass (as well as one new European string quartet by Paweł Szymański).

Ms. Reinthaler forgot to include this hyper-link to Charlton Lee’s, Charles Amirkhanian’s, and Mark Swed’s program notes to the music on the NGA concert:

(Next season, the Washington Performing Arts Society has stripped all American classical music from the programming of its visiting orchestras series. Subscribers should complain loudly to WPAS’s Board of Directors.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | April 13, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

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