The Szymanowski Quartet arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday for its concert on the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series with a program that gratifyingly filled a gap in repertory of the distinguished 90-year-old organization. The concert in Kleinhans Music Hall’s Mary Seaton Room featured as its centerpiece the Buffalo premiere of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s Quartet No. 2, Op. 56.
Szymanowski wrote just two quartets. The first in 1917 was adventurous but clearly rooted in lush late romantic sonority, with many passages evoking Ravelian flavors. The visiting artists’ performance of the Quartet No. 2 makes it clear that over the intervening decade the composer’s textures had grown denser, with the use of Polish folk songs suggesting a familiarity with Bartok. Its hushed, whispering opening has seemed to many scholars like a moonlit landscape. Its form is unusual, a sequence of short intimate musical ideas somehow related to one another but not at all like a theme and variations.
The central Vivace was original and gritty textured, while the concluding Lento soon escalated to a furious level before ending with a stunning coda of four brazen, fortissimo, double-stopped chords.
The concert opened with Mozart’s Quartet in D minor, K421 in a rather idiosyncratic performance. The first movement was played in a pensive, questioning and quietly cautious mood. The phrasing of the Andante was also cautious and curiously halting, but they assumed a more conventional approach to the final two movements, closing with an intense flair.
Mendelssohn’s rarely heard Quartet in E minor, Op. 80 concluded the program, with the guest quartet at the top of its form. This is a clean and uncluttered work containing none of the softly alluring themes so typical of the composer. This is largely the result of his grief over the death of his beloved sister Fanny. It’s a stern but beautiful work that was given a strikingly effective performance.
In response, the artists offered as an encore the “Melodie” by Ukrainian composer Miroslav Skoryk.