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Lieberman shares view on The Biava String Quartet

By Staff | Mar 27, 2009

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by Harold Lieberman

On Saturday, March 7, the Sanibel Music Festival presented as its second concert of its 23rd season, the Biava String Quartet. Sponsored by an “Anonymous Friend of the Festival,” and presented in the intimate and acoustically exalted sanctuary of the Sanibel Congregational Church, the program of works by Mozart, Turina, Barber and Greig elicited a standing ovation with fervent clapping from the appreciative audience. The youthful members of the Biava Quartet: violinists, Austin Hartman and Hyunsu Ko, violist, Mary Persin and cellist, Jason Calloway, perform standing with the exception of cellist, Calloway who sat on a small platform. Visually, this stance is most effective as the players are in a position to move freely from side to side, thus establishing eye contact and a deep sense of camaraderie.

They are a well polished group who, in their ten years of performing together have mastered tonal balance, phrasing, intonation, dynamics and the ability to effectively work together as a musical team. Individually, the separate lines between the two violinists were quite clear and the aggressive boldness of the viola and cello was quite dominant. Aside from these superlatives, the total effect of sound was, at times, a bit strident and, at times, their interpretation lacked a convincing euphoria.

This feeling was most noticeable in the first selection, Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet in B-flat Major, K. 458. This joyous and melodious four movement work lacked a Haydnesque playfulness and a Mozartean eloquence that I have heard and wanted to hear again. Each player’s lines and intonation were quite clear, but the total effect did not satisfy my expectations.

The second work, “La Oracion del Torero” (The Bullfighter’s Prayer) was written by the Spanish composer, Joaquin Turina. Born in Spain in 1882, he lived in Paris from 1905-1914 where he got to know the French Impressionist composers, Ravel and Debussy. Cellist, Calloway briefly spoke about Turina and described his composition as “more French than Spanish.” The influence of impressionism was dominant in the composition along side the many different moods, rhythms and colors of the great Spanish composers, Albeniz and De Falla. The quartet captured these French/Spanish nuances most effectively.

The third piece before intermission was, Samuel Barber’s, “Adagio from the Quartet No. 1, Op.11.” This movement became known worldwide as “Adagio for Strings” and perhaps known as the saddest music ever written. It was played at the funerals of Franklin D Roosevelt, Prince Rainer of Monoco, President Kennedy and in 2001 at the ceremony at the World Trade Center to commemorate the victims of the Sept. 11 attack. It has also been heard on many film and TV soundtracks. Its minor tonality and stepwise ascending melody reaches one’s soul and tugs at one’s heart. I have heard this work countless times and it always reaches my emotions. The Biava Quartet performance was effective and “right-on.”

The last work was, “Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27” by the Norwegian composer and pianist, Edvard Greig.

The work consists of four movements:

Un poco Andante-Allegro molto ed agitato,

Romanze:Andantino-Allero agitato,

Intermezzo: Allegro molto marcasto-Piu vivo e scherzando-Tempo I

Finale: Lento-Presto al Saltarello.

Greig wrote but one string quartet and as a post-Romantic composer, used unusual harmonies and also incorporated Norwegian folk melodies in his compositions. In his quartet, many of his melodies are original but sound like folk melodies. The “scherzo” also has a feeling of Norwegian peasant dances. The final, “Saltarello” has a skipping dance step rhythm in triple meter.

The many Gypsy like cadenzas were impressively and flawlessly performed with great precision.

The Biava Quartet performed with absolute perfection in technical detail, clarity and cohesion. They are attractive, energetic, and communicate with each other very well but, to my ears, fell slightly short of communicating a performance that should have left me exalted.