Music lovers packed the WCR Center for the Arts Friday night to hear the Daedalus String Quartet, with Wyomissing native Matt Bengtson as guest pianist, in the first Friends of Chamber Music of Reading concert of the season.
The quartet chose to play French repertoire for the first half of the concert, starting with Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F Major. This is my favorite string quartet, and among my favorite pieces of chamber music, so naturally I was thrilled with this choice, especially in a performance that was so brilliant - technically pristine and interpretively masterful.
Violinists Min-Young Kim and Karen Kim, violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Thomas Kraines made every measure of the piece a delight. The first movement, with its sweet tunes full of small disturbances, was like a stroll through an Oriental hothouse full of chrysanthemums and peonies. Their playing was well-balanced between finely calibrated control of their sounds and freedom of expression.
The second movement - whose pizzicato opening, like Spanish guitars, has the character of a scherzo - was given a velvet touch; the incredibly lovely trio section gathered itself effortlessly back into the first part - a lesson in suavity.
The slow movement showcased Min-Young Kim and Kraines, both of them dramatic players who also are capable of great delicacy; and the finale, like a swarm of bees with echoes of the other movements, had enormous energy from the first attack.
The players proved that this piece never stops being exquisite for one second. Like a meditation, it keeps the listener riveted in each moment.
They continued with Henri Dutilleux's sometimes creepy but completely fascinating "Ainsi la nuit," a seven-part contemplation of nocturnal sounds and atmosphere. After the haunting, slightly dissonant first chords, the first movement breaks into effects that mimic insect sounds, a scraping twig, fat droplets, a squeaky door (its hinges lamenting) and an occasional night terror.
Hints of Gregorian chant waft through the piece, tremolos like teeth chattering, things popping, distant bells - all created with mere bows on strings. In the hands of these players, it was all magical.
Bengtson joined them for Robert Schumann's deeply Romantic Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, in a performance that was by turns exuberant and melancholic - like the composer himself. The first movement was all light until the introduction of a snippet from Bach's "St. John Passion" (the final words of Christ), which laid its shadow across the instruments.
After the stark, bleak funeral march of the second movement, the Scherzo, with its manic triplets, came as a shock - wonderful, happy music - and in the middle, gossamer piano under a violin solo. Their playing of the finale was delightfully light and transparent.
Bengtson's performance was eloquent and, like the quartet's, technically flawless.
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