Fine Arts Quartet Review - Austin American Statesman

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Much masterful playing of works by the masters of the string quartet

By Luke Quinton
Monday July 9, 2012

The Fine Arts Quartet is playing its 66th season, and if you’re curious how that is physically possible, it’s simply a gentle substitution of new members throughout the decades.

Remarkably, Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, the first and second violinists, respectively, came on board in the early 1980s, and since then, have recorded 80 pieces of music in a staggering discography.

Their concert at Bates Recital Hall this weekend was their first official appearance at the Austin Chamber Music Festival.

The evening began, though, with a touching elegy to Peter Oakley Coltman, who passed away last week. Mr. Coltman was the husband of Felicity Coltman, the founder of the Austin Chamber Music Center, and pianist Michelle Schumann joined cellist Laura Andrade in a heartfelt version of Gabriel Fauré’s “Après un rêve.”

The program from the Fine Arts Quartet was a fairly traditional affair. Aside from exchanging suit coats for simple black dress shirts, they could be the stereotypical picture of a string quartet.

They began with Haydn’s “String Quartet in F Major, Op. 27, No.2,” in a bright and precise performance.

The Haydn was followed by the fantastic “String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 41, No.1,” By Robert Schumann. It opens with a conversation, each instrument communicating like voices at a dinner party. And from there, moves into a stormy romp. The conclusion is grand, and finishes with a heart-melting duet in the violins.

But after intermission, the quartet was joined by Michelle Schumann for Dvorak’s Quintet in A major, Op. 81. And the spectacular opening movement was a tempest, giving the impression of teetering above a cliff face.

Schumann, in her introduction, called Dvorak “the master of nostalgia,” an apt description of the composer who adored sad folk melodies.

There were a few such memories here, and a section that sounded almost Caribbean, but there is also a scurrying energy, in which the violinists occasionally came off a little scruffy, in exchange for a sense of vibrancy. The addition of the piano at this finale gave a lush canvas to play with. And the piece is extremely entertaining, hopping from one motif to another that’s entirely different.

Perhaps it was the concert’s length, but by the end, the energy of Dvorak’s first movement seemed to have dropped, despite the hoedown finale.

In all, it was an evening of focused performances of warmly rewarding works.

Luke Quinton is an American-Statesman freelance arts critic.

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