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Edward Elgar’s Quintet in A minor for Piano and Strings, Op. 84 from 1919 took a much darker turn. Described by Elgar as “ghostly,” the quintet is less a whisper and more an epic voyage into melancholy. On an overly bright piano, guest artist Anne-Marie McDermott led a tight quartet through a big romantic rendition of the 40-minute work’s extreme highs and lows.
The opening restraint in the Moderato quickly flowered into passionate quartet themes edged by McDermott’s commanding tone and flamboyant stage presence. Grand crescendi, fluid expression, and huge dynamic ranges delineated the formal sections, yet retained an elegiac mood. Gorgeous intonation and phrasing from both first violinist Clara Lee and cellist Kevin Kunkel were high points.
The Adagio’s warm string chorale in major and McDermott’s sentimental accompaniment provided some respite from the darkness. Gently undulating melodies allowed second violinist Kelly Bunch and violist Sarah Harball to contribute emotive solos as the texture built into giant waves of momentum before a return to major finally dispersed the clouds.
Elgar’s final Andante-Allegro also reprised themes from its first movement, moving quickly into a grand crescendo before plunging into a lush series of cascading sequences. Virtuosic flourishes showcased McDermott’s talents, and the strings achieved a nearly symphonic sound. Several notable, sparklingly iridescent ensemble passages helped to counteract the heady, almost hypnotic overall effect of the quintet.