Friends of Chamber Music

The Mandelring Quartet with Rena Sharon

Date and Venue Tuesday, 26 February 2008 @ 8 pm | Vancouver Playhouse

Haydn String Quartet in G, Op. 77 No. 1 Janácek String Quartet No. 1 (Kreutzer Sonata) Brahms Quintet in F for Piano and Strings, Op. 34

Reviewer J H Stape

Generously sponsored by the Rogers Financial Group, this concert was a object lesson in well balanced programming: after convincing the audience that they ranked among the finest Haydn players going, the Madelring went on to do no less so with Janácek, and then had the audacity to render a compelling reading of the Brahms Piano Quintet.

So often relegated to a mere warm-up, Haydn shone in the Opus 77 No. 1 String Quartet, a winning work dripping with almost too much charm in its frolicsome first movement Allegro. The happy toe-tapping mood to march-like rhythms proved to be contravened, however, by an Andante of supremely serious material, rendered in a warm chocolaty tone.

The Minuet offered yet another abrupt shift, as hectic sprightliness moved to the fore, with a quick segue into a Presto that revealed Haydn spirited and even unbuttoned: Papa Haydn on the caboodle, as it were.

Janácek's "Kreutzer Sonata" (1923), a glory of the Modernist repertoire, is a plunge into deep emotion, the first movement Adagio, tormented and questioning, becoming almost unbearably intense.

The next movements, both marked con moto, play ironically with abundant thematic material that is at once compelling emotionally and engaging technically and intellectually. The final movement, another Adagio, rehashes the earlier hearts-on-sleeve material, but with vigorous alterations in dynamics.

This quartet elicited a bravura reading from the Mandelring: stylish playing, richly evocative playing, and interpretive allure, all were confidently in place.

Brahms's Piano Quintet (1865), one of the warhorses of the late-Romantic period, was no less confidently assayed. If some of the rhythms were slightly faster than usual, the reading worked marvellously to reveal a lavish soundscape where majestic emotionality and real nobility abound.

Rena Sharon, a tad too loud in the opening Allegro non troppo movement, found more balance as the piece moved into the Andante. The Madelring offered a meticulously constructed reading, getting the jauntiness and swagger of the pulsing third movement Scherzo just right in the way it had worked magic with the second movement Andante, a confection of warmth and contentedness. The Finale, marked poco sostenuto, eminently dramatic and lyrical in character, was boldly and brightly rendered with a rousing and vivid prolonged close

And so it was another night of fine playing by a group on the top of its game, with revelations and pleasures in equal measure. The Friends of Chamber Music, with its sixty years of volunteer effort in bringing the best of chamber music to Vancouver, can't be thanked enough for its hard work, smooth organization, and the manifold pleasures it gives its knowledgeable and attentive audiences.

This is music for the sophisticated, and concert in concert out, just as year in year out, they get what they've come for. This German quartet proved a true BMW: top of the line for quality, elegant of finish, and with a motor that purred and revved effortlessly and with daunting, dare one say, Teutonic, precision.

© 2008 J H Stape