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CHAMBER REVIEW
Brave New Music / Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Szymanowski Quartet. Agata Szymczewska and Grzegorz Koloq, violin; Vladimir Mykytka, viola; Marcin Sieniawski, cello

Szymanowski Quartet Feb. 4 in Healdsburg (N. Bell Photo)

INTENSE STRING PLAYING IN HEALDSBURG'S ALL-POLISH COMPOSER PROGRAM

by Nicki Bell
Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A surprise program change greeted a full house in Healdsburg’s SHED Grange Room Feb. 4 when the Szymanowski Quartet from Warsaw played an all-Polish composer concert. Judging by audience comments at intermission the displacement of an arrangement of a Mussorgsky work by Penderecki’s Third Quartet was a happy one.

The entire concert, produced by Brave New Music, was saturated by dramatics that reflected the evening’s theme - No Expressive Stone Unturned. The playing of this consummate ensemble infused the room with provocative music, beginning with the Quartet’s namesake “Nocturne and Tarantella” from 1915. Originally written for violin and piano the piece was arranged for the Szymanowski by Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk, and the contrasts between the gentle Nocturne and the increasingly percussive (and eventually fatal) tarantella were stark and angry.

Penderecki’s recent Quartet (“Leaves from an Unwritten Diary”) received a reading full of vitality and featured several gorgeous viola solos from Vladimir Mykytka. It’s written in one long movement with different scenes, and was commissioned by the Shanghai Quartet in 2008.

At the opening the music was wild and percussive, the string glissandos and shimmering tremolos becoming at times angry, and then reflective and lyrical. There were references to Bartok’s style in the primitive dance figurations and a dialogue of confrontation. The performance was virtuosic.

Following intermission and a position switch for violinists the Bacewicz Fourth String Quartet, based on Polish folk melodies, was performed. Here the dynamics were continuously nuanced, an exceptional accomplishment given the excitement of the playing and the tricky dance-like rhythms. Harmonies in this 1951 work were Brahmsian and then Ravelian, the latter with textures of teasing jazz.

The lovely slow movement was played with intertwined melodies from cellist Marcin Sieniaski and violinists Agata Szymczenska and Grzegorz Koloq, and the finale was a romp that could have come from Prokofiev. Wistful folk tunes turned into a frantic dance, reminding one of the Tarantella performed earlier in the program. The Quartet gave the Bacewicz heart-stopping intensity and a glowing and rapturous finish.

An ecstatic audience demanded an encore and it came with the Quartet’s own arrangement of a waltz from Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite. Recent research has shown the theme actually is from the Russian’s 1956 “Suite for Variety Orchestra” and became famous as a part of the soundtrack to the movie “Eyes Wide Shut.” It was a sweet and sincere ending to a kaleidoscopic concert of potent chamber music.

Contributing to this review were Linda McLaughlin and Vishnu.