Minetti Quartett shows unity and versatility, from Schubert to Shostakovich

Tue Mar 26, 2019 at 8:57 am
By Matt Starling

The Minetti Quartett performed Monday night, presented by the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City.

The Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City welcomed the Minetti Quartett to Libby Gardner Concert Hall Monday evening on the campus of the University of Utah. The Austrian ensemble’s program featured music by a trio of titans of the string quartet genre.

The Minetti Quartett is a young group with a mature sound. Their ability to listen to each other and beyond each individual’s own contribution was self evident throughout the program, while their carefully refined technique and shared vision allowed the players to achieve a highly unified results.

Dimitri Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7 in F sharp minor, a composition consisting of three uninterrupted movements, was the shortest work on the program. Written in 1960, the quartet was dedicated to the composer’s first wife Nina, who died suddenly in 1955.

Experiencing this live performance, the deep-rooted grief that accompanies the loss of a spouse was fully manifest. During the sparse opening segment, it became clear that there was a high level of cohesion between the players as the precise bow strokes resulted in a precise and articulate staccato sound. Cellist Leonhard Roczek tackled the first bit of soloistic playing of the work with a marvelous grit and understated fierceness that was quite appropriate for this introspective work. 

During the mostly legato and flowing second movement, the ensemble continued to impress with their  greatly unified sound: during a passage with cello and viola in unison there were moments when the playing was so closely matched that it was difficult to distinguish the individual instruments. Among the most effective moments of the evening was when the tranquil second movement gradually and naturally diminished to near silence, followed by a brief pause and then an explosion of sound. 

This heralded the opening phrase of the final movement—a mighty punctuation of fortissimo marcato gestures by Rockzek and violinists Maria Ehmer and Anna Knopp. Soon the entire quartet was engaged in a sustained stretch of massive musical energy driven by aggressive bowing and a driving tempo, only to be replaced during the final few minutes by a con sordino sound, the concise work ending in a sober and restrained manner.

Ehmer, the first violinist, shouldered the bulk of the melodic playing throughout the evening. During Haydn’s Quartet in E Flat Major Op. 33, no. 2, which opened the evening, her clarity of tone, carefully shaded dynamics and expert phrasing were evident from the opening theme. This continued throughout  the first two allegro movements, as Ehmer gave a charming and authentic reading of the lead part, enhanced by her impressive technique. 

The Largo began with an exquisite solo by violist Milan Milojicic, setting the tone for the entry of the full ensemble. During this movement the quartet sounded especially resonant, with a richness to the harmonies that was quite captivating. The final movement was handled with an enjoyable playfulness and the ensemble crafted the humorous ending perfectly, earning a nice chuckle from the audience.

The evening’s largest-scale work was Schubert’s Quartet in G Major D. 887. Throughout these four movements, Schubert achieves intense drama through his use of abrupt modulations from major to minor and back, resulting in sudden shifts in mood. The ensemble displayed a keen ability to summon the work’s stormy mood—seizing on these moments and bringing out their true potential with an unbridled dynamic technique in a forceful, even captivating interpretation. 

The first movement began with a tremendous crescendo that rang throughout the hall. During the Andante, the Minetti members’ pure, legato phrasing provided the evening’s most soulful moments. The group’s precision and dynamism propelled Schubert’s dramatic rhythms and harmonies to a satisfying conclusion.

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