Effective Juxtaposition of the Youthful with the Mature

United StatesUnited States Beethoven, Walton, Foss, and Dvořák: Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu (violin and viola), Alan Iglitzin (viola), Matthew Zalkind (cello), Emily Daggett Smith (violin), Julio Elizalde (piano), Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 11.8.2013 (BJ)

Beethoven: String Trio in D major, Op. 9 No. 2
Walton: Piano Quartet
Foss: Capriccio for Cello and Piano
Dvořák: String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 51

It’s not easy for a string player to switch from violin to viola without a breathing-space between to get the mind and fingers readjusted. But Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu managed the trick brilliantly, sounding as assured of technique and sumptuous of tone in Walton’s Piano Quartet as she had been crisp and stylish in the Beethoven string trio that opened the program.

Both the Beethoven and the Walton are youthful works. Beethoven’s trio is characteristic of his early style, and it drew an appropriately lively and classically-oriented performance from Wu in partnership with Alan Iglitzin, suave as ever on viola, and the ebullient Matthew Zalkind, who contributed a firm and shapely cello line.

The Walton, by contrast, written when the composer was only 16, is a somewhat generically romantic piece. It is only with the energetic finale that some incisive effects of rhythm and articulation begin to point toward the mature Walton of such highly individual works as the First Symphony and Belshazzar’s Feast. Standing in at short notice for the injured Ilana Setapen, Emily Daggett Smith played the first-violin part with poised elegance. Julio Elizalde provided the keyboard glue that kept the ensemble impressively together, in a work whose language, if a shade anonymous, offers an audience much enjoyment when played as sympathetically as it was on this occasion.

The Capriccio for Cello and Piano that followed after intermission is, once again, an early piece—Lukas Foss was 21 when he wrote it—but its unabashed sense of fun makes it sound entirely personal, even if influences from other American composers (and styles) are as abundantly present in it as the avant-garde-istic tendencies he was later to show are absent. With Elizalde in punctual support, Zalkind played it up a storm. This is clearly a young cellist with a big future, who combines richly resonant tone and impeccable intonation with a vividness of communication that has his listeners in the palm of his hand.

The tenth in Dvořák’s masterly series of fourteen string quartets represented the afternoon’s only instance of a truly mature compositional style. Though it may not be as well stocked with ideas of vividly personal cast as some of his more familiar works, it still sounds like vintage Dvořák from first note to last. Daggett Smith and Wu on first and second violins and their colleagues on viola and cello were all in commanding form, and their easeful warmth of expression ended the afternoon on a note of pure pleasure.

Bernard Jacobson