Bronfman, NY Philharmonic Quartet impress at Linton Series

12.07.18
New York Philharmonic String Quartet , Yefim Bronfman
Cincinnati Business Courier

"It was something of a miracle that it all came together," remarked Cynthia Phelps, violist in the New York Philharmonic String Quartet, during the group's debut with the Linton Chamber Music Series on Sunday.

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And in their Cincinnati debut, the newly-formed quartet, all principal players of the New York Philharmonic - concertmaster Frank Huang, principal associate concertmaster Sheryl Staples, principal violist Phelps and principal cellist Carter Brey - introduced themselves in quartets by Haydn and Shostakovich.

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As musicians who play together in their day jobs with the New York Philharmonic, it might not be surprising that they performed seamlessly as an ensemble. (They formed in January 2017). But it was also enlightening to witness the individual artistry of each player. (In a local connection, Phelps briefly attended the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.)

Every detail emerged beautifully in this intimate space, and they communicated with warmth and spontaneity. One of the highlights was the so-called "Witches Canon" of the third movement, where the musicians dug into their strings for a rustic effect. The finale was a vehicle for Huang's gleaming virtuosity, yet always in communion with his colleagues.

Shostakovich's Quartet in E-flat Major, No. 9, was another world, one of bleak atmospheres and cynical themes. The work is cast in five unbroken movements. The musicians summoned an otherworldly tone in the central "Allegretto," drawing sparks with their bouncing bows in the odd "William Tell" rhythms. They traded searing, rhapsodic themes in the lengthy finale, and the intensity was palpable.

It was a rare treat when, after intermission, Bronfman joined the quartet for Schumann's majestic Piano Quintet in E-flat Major. Their collaboration exuded a freshness of spirit from the beginning.

The pianist played with a combination of warmth, vigor and momentum, yet he never overpowered his colleagues. One could only marvel as the musicians traded Schumann's romantic themes, sometimes lingering on a phrase, as Brey irresistibly did in the first movement. The muted, halting atmosphere of the second movement, a funeral march, was remarkable. Bronfman soared vigorously through the scherzo, and plunged without a break into the finale. Capping the work, Schumann's brilliant double fugue was thrilling, both for its precision as well as for the passion with which it was played.

Listeners in the sold-out house were on their feet in an instant. It will be remembered as one of the most exhilarating performances of the season.

 Read the full review here