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In performance: Royal String Quartet

Web-only review:

Too-strong pianist overpowers fine quartet
by Joan Reinthaler

Had he been performing in a large concert hall with the backing of a full symphony orchestra, pianist Eugen Indjic's reading of the Chopin F Minor Piano Concerto No. 2 would have been a treat. Supple and beautifully articulated, his was a performance that explored a whole world of colors and sonorities. But the venue on Sunday was the intimate music room of the Phillips Collection, the version was Chopin's transcription for piano and string quartet and the excellent young Royal String Quartet was outweighed and overwhelmed by Indjic's power. The upper strings sounded frantic in their effort to be heard and the lower strings, more relaxed and lyrical, nevertheless were impotent in this unbalanced ensemble. Indjic could and should have made adjustments.
(read more after the jump)

On its own, the quartet (from the Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw) offered intense and committed readings of the one-movement Quartet No. 1, Op. 62 , "Already It Is Dusk," by Gorecki and the String Quartet No. 4 by Grazyna Bacewicz. Both of these are pieces by composers who explored the serialism and atonality of the early 20th century and emerged on the other side, comfortable in idioms that are less dominated by harmonic dogma. Gorecki's features a series of quietly lyrical viola hymn melodies interrupted by increasingly urgent and vigorously repeated chords, whose echoes ring in a quiet fog of sound. Bacewicz's more classically structured three movements featured moods of declamation and bucolic conversation, romantic interplay and, finally, a jolly dance.

The performances were intelligent, well executed and beautifully thought out.

-- Joan Reinthaler

By Anne Midgette  |  May 18, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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A case can be made that, of all the piano concertos in the standard repertory, the two by Chopin have the weakest and most dispensable orchestral "accompaniments." Thus, judging the balance between piano and strings at this concert by the democratic standards of chamber music may be a bit unfair. The Chopin concertos, like virtually everything else he wrote, are all about the piano. For better or worse. Far more interesting music -- music that does involve significantly more interplay and dialogue between solo and tutti -- is found in Mozart's four piano concertos arranged by the composer for quintet.

Posted by: Lutoslawski | May 18, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

An excellent review. I agree that, sadly, the guest pianist overwhelmed the exquisite young string quartet in the last third of the program. However, the first two-thirds of the late afternoon concert were very refreshing, intimate, and memorable.

I recall that the last time, I believe, the Royal String Quartet performed locally three years ago, they performed in the acoustically boomy National Gallery of Art West Garden Court. While I see that program was listed as “Szymanowski and other Polish composers”, I recall – someone correct me – the also intermission-less program consisting of the two beautiful Szymanowski string quartets framing the early Webern Langsamer Satz of 1905 – which apparently was a replacement for a string quartet by Ludomir Różycki (1915), a fellow member of the “Young Poland” movement.

Ludomir Różycki wrote a tragic opera for the grand Warsaw National Opera on "Beatrix Cenci" forty-five years before the Washington National Opera commissioned Alberto Ginastera to write his “Beatrix Cenci” opera for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts here in Washington, D.C. That second setting was perhaps the only great or near great opera ever commissioned by the American national opera company over the past forty years.

During and just after World War II, Ludomir Różycki composed his second piano concerto, an unfinished violin concerto, a setting of “The Bells” for voice and orchestra, and two dramatic orchestral tone poems “On the Ruins of Warsaw” and “Liberated Warsaw.”

I look forward to listening to the new CD’s – on Hyperion - by the Royal SQ of all three Górecki SQ’s, as well as the Różycki SQ.

Posted by: snaketime1 | May 18, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

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