A Philadelphia quartet ranges from depth and delicacy to champagne-like sparkle

26/11/2019

United StatesUnited States Haydn, Mozart, and Dvořák: Kim Kashkashian (viola), Marcy Rosen (cello), Orion String Quartet. Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 17.11.2019. (BJ)

Orion String Quartet (c) Andreas Hafenscher

Haydn – String Quartet in E flat major, Hob.III:38, Op.33 No.2, ‘Joke’

Mozart – String Quartet in C major, K.465

Dvořák – String Sextet in A major, Op.48

Presented in a Philadelphia Chamber Music Society season that is scheduled to offer a liberal dose of unconventional programming (as well as a number of panel discussions), this Orion String Quartet program of Haydn-and-Mozart-plus-one projected the by no means unwelcome air of a good old-fashioned chamber concert.

The performances, too, were replete with good old-fashioned values. If you were a fan of the Guarneri Quartet, the Orion’s playing is unlikely to be your glass of champagne. By comparison with the often soapily insubstantial tone of the now disbanded forerunner’s violinist and cellist — which was only partially compensated for by John Dalley’s and Michael Tree’s sterling work on the inner parts — the Orion’s Daniel and Todd Phillips (who take the first-violin chair turn and turnabout), and their equally gifted colleagues Steven Tenenbom and Timothy Eddy on viola and cello, display a readiness to dig uninhibitedly into their strings that rubs me up very decidedly the right way.

Do not conclude from that assertion that there is anything one-dimensional or coarse about their playing. Contrast of both tonal and thematic structure is a central element in works partaking of the classical-romantic sonata style, and aside from making a ripely beautiful sound, these musicians vividly fulfill the no less important need for dynamic contrast, ranging in that field from powerfully assertive to lyrically delicate as the music demands.

The result on this highly satisfying afternoon was a Haydn ‘Joke’ Quartet at once stylish and diverse in expression, its concluding — and then concluding once more — sally thrown off with delicious aplomb, and a Mozart performance that plumbed the C-major Quartet’s seemingly paradoxical depths and its more obvious light-heartedness with equal conviction. Joined after intermission by two thoroughly worthy partners in violist Kim Kashkashian and cellist Marcy Rosen, the players achieved an account of Dvořák’s entertaining Sextet that capped a finely shaped first movement and a suitably emotional Dumka with a dashing Furiant, and a finale that rose to a conclusion of sparkling brilliance.

The only old-fashioned aspect of the concert that left me mildly disappointed was the players’ parsimony with repeats. Alfred Brendel once took me to task for what he considered an unseemly gluttony in such matters. But I am not ashamed of the fact that, when music is this well played, I am happier, on the composer’s specific instructions, to hear it twice.

Bernard Jacobson

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