Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophic Society
Karol Szymanowski: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 37
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 “Quartetto serioso”
Robert Schumann: String Quartet in A Minor, Op 41, No. 1
Parker Quartet: Daniel Chong, Ying Xue (violin), Jessica Bodmen (viola), Kee-Hyun Kim (cello)
The Parker Quartet
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society artistic director Miles Cohen has programmed a stellar line-up of internationally acclaimed chamber groups coming up for the remainder of PCMS’s 2015-16 season, but it will not be a stretch that the December 13 Parker Quartet concert will be counted as a musical highlight of the year.
In addition to their 2011 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance, the group has ongoing residencies at Harvard University and the University of South Carolina, among other distinguished musical tenures. In Philly, they performed a dynamic concert in the warm environs of the American Philosophical Society, a cobblestone’s throw from Independence Mall, with a dynamic program of works by Beethoven, Schumann and Karel Szymanowski made for an entrancing survey of the composer’s chamber music dialectics and range of quartet forms. It was otherwise the Quartet’s virtuosic jam session that brought to mind Louis Armstrong’s maxim about music being “all jazz.”
There was at least one audible grumbling in the audience when Cohen announced the switch in the program of the scheduled piece of 12 Microludes for String Quartet by György Kurtág, instead the ensemble played Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s String Quartet in C Major. Lead violinist Daniel Chong the lead line that surfs dissonance (never sounding shrill), and faces off with the other players equally driving sound field. The technical artistry of the Parker on the front burner in the Allegro with sonic architecture building like that of a time-lapse photographic study of the wending branches on a tree- each musician sustaining solo clarity and impeccable ensemble interlocks. Szymanowski composed the piece in 1917, toward the end of WWI, his stark counterpoints, staccato note accumulations, tonal colors, accelerated mad dash resolves, and contrasted with haunted melodies in the 2nd movement Adagio, suggests symbolism of tragic turmoil, but otherwise is musically entrancing. The lusty reception of the piece by the audience seemed to indicate that no one was disappointed with the program change.
Next was Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11, composed in 1810, intriguingly in its modernism side by side to the Szymanowski piece, with only a few ascending echoes of Ludwig’s symphonic signatures, this is a riveting and intimate dialogue between the strings. Beethoven’s driving progressions have density and uncharacteristic esprit.
As compelling and stellar the playing was on both works in the first half, after intermission, the Parker showed their mastery of Schumann’s Quartet in A Minor, composed in 1842, and much admired by his contemporaries, including Mendelssohn, and as Bernard Jacobson cites in his program notes, his Quartets went far in establishing Schumann’s reputation as a major composer. Like the Beethoven, it is as much of a mastery of classical form, as it is adventurous in its expanding ideas. A particularly dynamic interplay between Bodeman and Kim in the 3rd movement Adagio and Kim seemed moved by the intensity of these passages. It is both a celebration of artistry of the composers on this program, within the technical acumen of this quartet, they also bring interpretive, and joyous artistry. The musicians graciously returned to the stage and performed a raucous Tarantella by Erwin Schulhoff for their thrilling encore.