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Review: New York Phil Quartet, Kalichstein compelling partners at FIU

From the South Florida Classical Review

By Lawrence Budmen

The chamber music of Dmitri Shostakovich represents some of the Russian composer’s most intimate and personal artistic statements. In contrast to the angst-ridden pages of his fifteen string quartets and the wartime piano trio, Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor (1941) seems lighter and more reflective but only on the surface.

Pianist Joseph Kalichstein and the New York Philharmonic Quartet offered an exciting performance of this enigmatic opus Sunday night at Florida International University’s Wertheim Performing Arts Center for Friends of Chamber Music’s first concert of the new year.

From the first solemn chords, Kalichstein exuded pianistic authority. He brought torrents of virtuosity to the keyboard- spanning paragraphs of the Scherzo and sensitivity to the more pointed lyricism of the Intermezzo. Kalichstein was fleet and assertive in the bold Russian motif of the concluding Allegretto. He blended seamlessly with the quartet, the piano line part of the instrumental fabric rather than constantly dominant.

The NYP players met the quintet’s stylistic cross=currents on their own terms. Individual voices were strongly transparent in the fugal sections. At times the musicians thinned down their vibrato, painting Shostakovich’s personal brand of neo-Baroque rhetoric in spare textures. Violinists Frank Huang and Sheryl Staples’ duo in the fourth movement was spun in silken tones. The entire performance was splendidly coordinated with contrasts of dynamics and tempo vividly detailed.

Dvořák’s familiar Quartet in F Major (“American”) was given fresh life with an exhilarating reading that dusted off the cobwebs to reveal anew the work’s wonderfully subtle fusion of American folk and vernacular influences with Slavonic dance.

The opening Allegro ma non troppo was tautly stated and refreshingly devoid of sentimentality. Cellist Carter Brey’s darkly molten sonority and nobility of phrasing took the simple thematic strands of the Lento to another level. From dulcet softness to full-blooded emotional climaxes, the players’ supple attention to dynamics paid consistent dividends. Brisk pacing of the final two movements capped a spirited and joyous ride through a unique memento of Dvořák’s 1890’s American sojourn. An unusually large audience at the Southwestern Miami-Dade campus awarded the players repeated standing ovations and bravos.

Read the full review.