In performance: Pro Musica Hebraica
Pro Musica Hebraica presents the Biava Quartet
by Joan Reinthaler
In the three years since its founding, Pro Musica Hebraica, an organization dedicated to bringing neglected Jewish music to the concert hall, has produced two concerts a year of uncommon interest. Thursday’s program, in the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, featured the Biava Quartet and the music they played, all French and most of it from the first half of the 20th century, offered a mix of French instrumental color and Jewish earthiness in proportions that varied from piece to piece but that served each composer well.
The program notes describe Alexandre Tansman’s Quartet No. 5 as "grappling with the brutal reality of chaos and evil exploding into his world" (World War II). If so, Tansman must have had a lively but benign view of evil. An insistent and hard-edged first movement, the closest he comes to brutality, leads to a delicate, calm and reflective second. The third movement is one of the most vivid musical evocations of a train ride, complete with passing landscape, I have ever heard, and the fourth is a splendidly complex and angular fugue. No chaos there. The Biava musicians played it with a terrific combination of impetuousness and control, with bow-weights of every attack carefully matched.
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Mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa and pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski joined the quartet for a set of Ravel’s Hebraic songs. Mezzacappa has a big warm voice, perhaps more suited to the German than the French repertoire, but she sang with sympathetic attention to the poetry.
Three of Milhaud’s polytonal pieces got balanced and lucid readings as each instrument explored the shape of its own individual line, with particularly lyrical contributions from cellist, Gwendolyn Krosnick, and this complexity was set off nicely by the simplicity of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s settings of old Hebraic melodies.
— Joan Reinthaler
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