Paul Katz, the cellist of the much admired but now disbanded Cleveland String Quartet, joined the members of the Cassatt String Quartet in the first concert of the Slee/Visiting Artist Series. Katz played the second cello part in Schubert's String Quintet in C, Op. 163, one of the most sublime works of chamber music, completed just weeks before the composer's death.
The well-conceived performance of Schubert was the highlight of the evening. The addition of a second cello allowed the composer to develop a symphonic fullness in the part writing, evident from opening allegro, where the passionate development of the spiritual sounding melodies builds to a climax that is orchestral in effect.
The lyrical adagio had the first violinist spinning a filigree of melody over the richly harmonic principal theme, which was in turn underpinned by the pizzicato of the second cello, sustaining a musical line that seemed suspended in time. The fiery abruptness of the middle section only added to the poignancy, when the opening theme returned.
The initial boisterousness of the scherzo cleared the air, but the mood again soon took a darker turn, with the music of the trio section sinking to despair, before the hopeful mood of the initial bars made a return. The tormented soul-searching of the two middle movements were finally overcome by the allegretto, with its dance-like main theme. The slyly ingratiating second subject sounds more Viennese, and when it returned for the last time, its warm heart-melting quality may be thought of as Schubert's re-affirmation of life, even in the face of the inevitable.
The concert opened with a performance of Mozart's Quartet in B-Flat, K.458, nicknamed the "Hunt" Quartet. Apart from one or two errant bowings, the quartet had good intonation, with the appropriate light touch. The rolling opening phrase of the allegro vivace, played by the two violins, and thought by some to sound like the call of hunting horns, is actually more playfully bucolic. All four players tossed the second theme back and forth, evidence in part for the origins of the quartet form as an amicable conversation among friends.
The menuetto created a stately, antique air, contrasted by the lighter, airy trio. The first violin figured prominently in the Adagio, playing a slow, florid melody, with the other three instruments effectively established a pulsating, repeated background for the second theme. The happy mood of the opening movement returned in the folk-like motif of the concluding allegro assai.
Shostakovich 's Quartet N 7, Op. 108, cleanly played by the Cassatt, packs a lot into its brief 15 minutes. The three movements are played without pause, with the song-like central, slow movement preceded by a sparsely textured allegretto that managed to convey a slightly menacing tone. A frenzied outburst announced the final movement, with the propulsive theme climbing to a scream, before losing steam and winding down to a piano ending.