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Quartet shows its vibrancy, vitality

Ensemble opens new chamber season in S.L.

The Brentano String Quartet is on the cutting edge of today's ensembles.
The Brentano String Quartet is on the cutting edge of today's ensembles.

BRENTANO STRING QUARTET, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Thursday.

The Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City opened its new season Thursday in Libby Gardner Concert Hall by bringing back one of America's premier string quartets.

The Brentano String Quartet (Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violins; Misha Amory, viola; and Nina Maria Lee, cello) by any standard is on the cutting edge among today's chamber ensembles. Its members play with a vibrancy and vitality that is impressive. The foursome's artistry is flawless, their technique assured and their musical sense superb. And no less amazing is their versatility as an ensemble.

The Brentano opened the program with an interesting piece by the contemporary American composer Bruce Adolphe. Titled "Oh Gesualdo, Divine Tormentor!," the work is a trancription of five of Carlo Gesualdo's five-part madrigals. In addition, Adolphe has also written a parody of one of them, as well as a concluding movement built on snippets of other madrigals by the eccentric Renaissance composer.

Adolphe cleverly adapted these works for the modern string-quartet medium, and the Brentano gave a credible performance that brought out the intense but stylized emotions of the original works succinctly. And in "More or Less" (the movement that parodies Gesualdo's most famous work, "Moro lasso"), Adolphe deftly retains the spirit of the music, with its extreme chromaticism, through striking use of glissandi.

The foursome wisely followed up with one of Mozart's most scintillating quartets, the A major, K. 464, one of Mozart's most substantial and meaningful, with its thematic material developed on a symphonic scope. The Brentano gave an eloquent reading of the work, although in expression, it was too romantic, and lost much of its classical elegance.

The concluding work was Mendelssohn's impassioned Quartet in F minor, op. 80. The final work the composer wrote before his death in 1847, it is filled with an unrelenting intensity of mood and expression that is atypical of Mendelssohn. This is not the composer of the luminous "A Midsummer Night's Dream" overture or the exuberant Octet. This is the work of a composer who is in search of inner peace, a pursuit that is, as it turns out in the finale, fruitless.

The Brentano gave a rapturous performance that captured the fervor of the work and the magnitude of its emotions. This was a stunningly formulated reading that was the crowning moment of the evening.