Innuendo is one of the most refreshing and enjoyable groups to come along in the chamber music scene, and its debut concert in Salt Lake City was enough to make one hope they keep coming back.
The group itself consists of five core members — violinist Lucia Lin, violinist Christopher Wu, violist Amadi Hummings, cellist Owen Young and pianist Keith Lockhart (yes, the music director for the Utah Symphony) — who rearrange themselves in various collaborations for a variety of chamber music. Wednesday night's performance consisted of two string quartets and a piano quintet.
Probably the most immediately noticeable characteristic of the group is in the program notes: "It is truly evident that the artists truly enjoy making music together." Hearing them play was like joining in a conversation of witty, intimate friends who delight in each others' company. Throughout the entire concert, there was an underlying feeling of joy — joy of togetherness and joy of making music. It's obvious that each musician is expert in his or her own right — and even better, they combine in a completely unified and synergistic way, so that the sum is greater than any of the parts. The result Wednesday was a spirited performance by musicians unshackled by any traces of pretentiousness.
The program started with Dvorak's String Quartet No. 10 in E flat, Op. 51. Lilting and delightful, the entire piece maintained a wonderful balance between being lighthearted and melodramatic. The performance was engaging and expressive, and the music seemed to have an underlying happiness. Even the more melancholy Dumka (Elegia) of the second movement and the more serious third movement always maintained a hopeful, cheerful demeanor.
For Piazzolla's "Four for Tango," however, the quartet dug in with dramatic intensity and much darker undertones. Although the performance was generally good, one complaint about this piece is that it sounded too rhythmically exact — as if it were being played to a metronome. Just a hint of hesitation on the beat gives a tango the sexy, sultry character that, well, makes a tango a tango. Sometimes the tango character also seemed to get lost at the expense of the many "special effects" written into the music. But even though it sometimes lacked a tango persona, the group's zest and gusto still made for an enjoyable performance.
Lockhart joined the other four musicians for Dohnanyi's Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 1. As a pianist, Lockhart generally held his own with the other four, although his articulations tended to get muddy sometimes. The personality of this piece took on an intensely passionate character, from the (almost) melodramatic first movement to the heroic, rousing fourth movement. The soaring third movement was particularly beautiful — a perfect marriage between a gorgeous piece of music and a soulful, heartfelt performance.