BORROMEO STRING QUARTET, Libby Gardner Hall, University of Utah, Thursday.
If chamber music were an Olympic event, the Borromeo String Quartet would definitely be considered to represent America. They've got what it takes, and plenty of energy to boot.
And just to clarify — that does not mean they have distracting, over-the-top physical mannerisms. It's just that they play music with such intensity and energy that a bottle of Gatorade would seem like a good way to cool off after the concert.
Take Bartok's String Quartet No. 5, for example. It's a rich, complex work with a huge range of textures and colors. The Borromeo String Quartet took on the challenge with finesse and aplomb, bringing out the complicated layers of tapestry with skilled musicianship.
What's more, they infused it with such energy that, at times — especially when the rhythms were just right — they almost seemed more like a rock group than a chamber-music quartet.
The first movement, the Allegro, was electric, and the hauntingly beautiful second movement demonstrated violinist Nicholas Kitchen's artistry. The jaunty scherzo was also fun.
The quartet paired with pianist Jonathan Biss for the second half of the program: Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A Major.
The first movement was the kind of impassioned, over-the-top romanticism that endears us to such lush, romantic music. The musicians seemed to have their hearts on their sleeves as they gushed the soaring melodies. The second movement seemed to focus more on the lyrical aspect, particularly featuring Mai Motobuchi on the viola. And the rest of the quintet burst with happy energy through the last two movements, which ended on an exhilarating note.
Biss suits the quartet well; he has a lyrical style of playing that blends with the rest of the strings, and he was able to keep pace with their energy on the quartet. But when left to himself, as on the Mozart Piano Sonata in A Minor, K.310, his interpretation sounded a lot more mellow.
He had moments when it perked up — as with the urgent-sounding opening chords in the left hand — but overall, it tended to sound somewhat introverted. The good news is, he was very musical and lyrical in his playing. He did, however, tend to over-use the pedal on the first movement, blending the sound a little too much (which may have simply been a failure to adjust to the acoustics of the hall).
Copies of the concert (on DVD and CD) are available on their Web site under "Living Archive" at www.borromeoquartet.org.