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Fry Street Quartet's Nova concert complex and musical

NOVA CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah, Feb. 21

The Fry Street Quartet is, without doubt, among the top quartets today. And it's fortunate that the group is here as the resident quartet of Utah State University and, by extension, of the entire state.

It's a wonderful ensemble, with the individual players bringing passion and amazing artistry to their performances. They are technically solid and, more importantly, fabulously musical.

The foursome performs occasionally in Salt Lake City and has been part of the NOVA Chamber Music Series for the last few years. They were back in town for Sunday's NOVA concert, playing two quartets from Beethoven's early op. 18 set: no. 6 in B flat major to open, and no. 4 in C minor to end the concert.

The six quartets of op. 18 follow classical structure and proportions. They're indebted to Haydn, but Beethoven's stamp is already apparent in the themes and their development and in their harmonic language.

The FSQ captured the classicism of these two works wonderfully. Their playing was lean with precision, clean lines and well-articulated phrasings. Yet, it wasn't dry. There was passion and romantic feeling in their readings, especially in the C minor Quartet where they brought out the earnestness of the opening movement with dramatic turns.

They also brought sublimely crafted expressiveness to their accounts. The slow movement of the B flat major Quartet was a fine example of how the FSQ brings delicately delineated lyricism to their interpretations. It was beautifully phrased and nuanced, and wonderfully polished.

Another work by Beethoven was on the program — the Cello Sonata in C major, op. 102, no. 1, played by the FSQ's cellist, Anne Francis, and NOVA's artistic director Jason Hardink.

On the other end of Beethoven's musical output from the op. 18 quartets, this two-movement sonata runs the gamut of expressions and emotions. Francis captured that wonderfully. It was a powerful reading with sensitive accompaniment from Hardink. They brought passion and intensity to their playing. It was bold and assertive in both allegros, and delicately lyrical in the slow openings to both movements. Francis' playing was cohesive and fluid, and she approached the work as if she owned it. It was an absolutely stunning performance.

Rounding out the concert was "A Glimpse Retraced" by Jason Eckardt, played by Hardink and flutist Sally Humphreys, clarinetist Kevin Schempf, violinist Gerald Elias and cellist Noriko Kishi.

"A Glimpse Retraced" is an intense, complex work that demands precision and rhythmic finesse from each of the players to make it work. And the five gave a compelling performance, especially Hardink. The work is essentially a concerto for piano, and the pianist plays incessantly. The writing is virtuosic and Hardink sparkled with his playing. He made his difficult part look easy and brought wonderful cohesiveness to the piece.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com