Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartet No. 18. String Quintet in D,
Brentano Str Qrt; Hsin-Yun Huang (va)
AEON 747 (62:25)
Chamber music enthusiasts not yet familiar with the Brentano String Quartet have a rare treat in store. Soon after joining forces in 1992, the quartet won the Cleveland Quartet and Naumburg prizes. Today they continue a rigorous schedule of international tours. As with all the finest quartets, Brentano’s
members—violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory, and cellist Nina Maria Lee—are individually gifted players of the first rank. Their latest release is an unusual pairing of one of Mozart’s quartets dedicated to Haydn with the D-Major viola Quintet.
From the initial statement of the primary thematic material in the A-Major Quartet, the Brentano is at pains to give each line its individual expressive shape and proportion. Every gesture is imbued with meaning; every harmonic progression has a sense of inevitable forward momentum. The variations of the extended slow movement unfold as a series of vividly individual characters. The rich polyphonic textures of the
Allegro non troppo
finale, reflecting Mozart’s involvement with Bach’s music at the time, emerge in luminous colors and with breathtaking clarity.
Since one rarely encounters a string quartet followed by a quintet in either performances or recordings, hearing K 593 on the heels of the A-Major Quartet is astonishing: what an amplification of texture Mozart creates with the addition of another mezzo voice. The slow introduction to the opening Allegro is touching in its tenderness and uncertainty. In the Adagio, the dead-center intonation makes the chains of suspensions almost heart-rending. The Minuet, one of Mozart’s finest, is filled with contrast: savor, for instance, the delicacy of the pizzicatos in the Ländler-like trio. The joyous finale fairly bursts with ebullient vitality.
Technical values of the sound engineering, made at the Academy of Arts and Letters, one of New York City’s preferred recording venues, are extraordinarily high. All the nuances of the Brentano’s lean but fruity sound are evident. Antoine Mignon’s notes are evocative and well translated. Ultimately, of course, the performances are what matters. This is playing that, while employing modern instruments, is fully cognizant of the ways and means of 18th-century bows and gut strings. Vibrato is never applied reflexively, but appropriately functions as but one element of an arsenal of expressive devices. Put another way, this is a modern ensemble that has internalized the lessons of period-instrument practice, and with stunning results. These are intellectually cogent performances that never lose sight of the music’s inherent kinesthetic pleasures. Very highly recommended.
FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
Works on This Recording
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