Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Live Review: The Ying Quartet (April 14th 2012)

I attend a lot of classical music concerts in Winnipeg, many of which I write reviews of. I'm going to post these reviews on here, although first I'll post some older reviews before I post more recent reviews.

The Ying Quartet
Virtuosi Concerts
Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall
April 14th 2012
Four and a half stars

Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch

The 2011/12 Virtuosi Concerts season came to a stellar close with a performance by the internationally-renowned Ying String Quartet. Made up of Ayano Ninomiya and Janet Ying on violin, Phillip Ying on viola and David Ying on cello, the quartet treated a capacity crowd at Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall Saturday night to an evening of warmth, life, and flawless performances.

The concert began with Anton Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 35, a work inspired by the composer’s friendship with Pyotr Tchaikovsky and incorporating elements of Tchaikovsky’s exultant Coronation March into its third movement. Arensky’s piece opened with a stunning evocation of chanting bass voices and played with an impressive variety of moods and textures – including a gorgeous pizzicato interlude in the Moderato – before ending with a spellbinding, violin-led race to the finish.

The following piece, Awakening by Billy Childs, replaced a work by Kenji Bunch listed in the program. The Quartet commissioned the work as part of an ongoing series in which composers are invited to reflect on their personal experiences. Childs took inspiration from his wife's life-threatening illness, with his anxiety reflected in the piece's often harrowing feel and sharp, dramatic contrasts. The mournful second movement broight the unsettling atmosphere of a hospital room to life, right down to the eerie beeping of a lung machine. Childs' work was also influenced by Leoš Janáček’s famous "Intimate Letters" Quartet, a piece inspired by the composer's ill-fated relationship with a younger woman. Awakening felt propelled by a similar sense of emotional tension.  

For the last selection of the night, the Quartet offered a glorious and vibrant rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2. The romantic character of the work was highlighted by the hymn-like quality of the second movement and the use of a Russian theme, first introduced by Modest Mussorgsky, in its Allegretto. The musicians’ interpretation of the quartet was masterful, with Ninomiya and David Ying impressing as the indisputable stars of the evening. Ninomiya dazzled with her lightning-speed bow work and flawless technique, while cellist Ying lent both an important rhythmic foundation and an awe-inspiring level of passion and energy to the performance.
As the last notes sounded in the auditorium, the audience rewarded the Ying Quartet with a long and sustained standing ovation. The concert proved to be the perfect ending to a fabulous season of great music and memorable performances. Alas, no encore was offered.

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