Brooklyn Rider renews Debussy after playing what he inspired

02.16.10
Brooklyn Rider
Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

By Elaine Schmidt

Brooklyn Rider, the New York-based string quartet presented on the Frankly Music series Tuesday evening, gave the sort of transporting performance music lovers crave.

The group, all members of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, played a program built around Debussy's "String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10." They placed the Debussy last on the program, preceding it with four pieces that share some sort of thread with it.

The players, violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, violist Nicholas Cords (all three of whom prefer to play standing) and cellist Eric Jacobsen are simply marvelous chamber musicians. Virtuosic and versatile, they play with remarkable like-mindedness, blurring the lines between one player and the next in service of musical line and statement.

Their approach is thoughtful, in a toss-out-the-old-ideas-and-start-from-scratch way. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Debussy.

They gave a masterful, completely engrossing performance of the Debussy. Their interpretation, built on clean, unaffected lines played with little vibrato, gave the effect of hearing the piece for the first time.

In their hands, one heard more of the influence of world music than European tradition on Debussy, along with the intricate interplay between the instruments.

Every piece that preceded the Debussy was somehow related to or inspired by it. By placing the newer pieces earlier on the program, the quartet gave the curious effect of foreshadowing the Debussy with pieces written significantly later.

The group opened with an evocative piece by violinist Jacobsen, entitled "Achille's Heel." Opening with tender, lyrical lines and moving to tension, energy and on to a bluegrass flavor, the piece's first two movements were written for string trio, the second violin joining on the last movements.

Shimmering sounds and fabulous ensemble work created an eye-opening reading of Philip Glass' "String Quartet No. 4, 'Buczak.' " They pulled the audience into the sinewy lines and shifting suspensions of Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky's " . . . al niente" and gave a rollicking rendition of "Frederico II" from Giovanni Sollima's "Viaggio in Italy."

The quartet's encore of a piece for string quintet, "Plume," brought their friend, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra principal bassist Zachary Cohen, to the stage to round out the ensemble.