by Nicholas Stevens
Straightforward though the concert experience may seem, myriad issues can intervene between performers and their audience. Programming is an art unto itself, and vagaries of context, time of day, and location can obscure the great music-making at the heart of an event. The July 15th performance on the Kent Blossom Music Festival’s Student Concert Series, hosted by the Hudson Library and Historical Society, illustrated as much. Each of the fourteen string players showed exceptional skill and experience as they performed, but the repertoire — along with the venue — conspired against them.
The Sunday afternoon concert took place in the rotunda of the Library, where the large room and high ceilings did the ensembles few acoustical favors. Perhaps this would have been fine had the repertoire featured lively wind music. Instead, the program opened with Dvořák’s intimate Miniatures, written for the violist-composer himself, a skilled second violinist, and an amateur first violinist housemate.
In spite of the large space, the trio played with a fine sense of balance. Violist Jacquelyn O’Brien, who served as the group’s foundation, played with solid intonation and allowed some soloistic flair to emerge in melodic moments. Steady in tempo yet flexible in rhythm, second violinist Abigail McLaughlin excelled in a third movement full of swirling figurations. Lik Hang Wu treated the tuneful, simple first violin part as a canvas, painting lines and shapes in autumnal hues.
Violist Jack Kehrli and cellist Katarina Davies made a great team in Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet, with an attention-grabbing drone in the first movement and fierce declarations in the finale. Violinists Yu-Ru Wu and Yi Jing traded contrasting variations of the main melody in the second movement, and brought a convincing lilt to the trio of the third. Though Wu’s intonation wavered in high passages, the players handled their individual parts well. However, the performance could have benefited from a stronger sense of overall direction, especially in the second movement — the type of slow cantabile that can either charm or stultify depending on interpretation.
Strauss’s Metamorphosen, a half-hour’s worth of almost unbroken lament, contrasted with the cheerful summer day visible outside. Originally scored for 23 soloists who can create rich, restless textures, the piece was performed here in a thinned-out, unbalanced arrangement for septet. Given the acoustics, the quality of the playing saved the performance. Second cellist Wei-An Hung carried a number of impressive melodic lines, and first violist En-Ting Hsu played a lovely solo that also righted the tempo after the inevitable flagging. First violinist Nathaniel Humphrey maintained good tone despite the burden of leading so many players. If second violinist Paula Castaneda, second violist Hui-Yi Kao, first cellist Hari Parkash Khalsa, and bassist Martin Lazo had been given more prominent parts in this arrangement, they would surely have handled them admirably.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com July 24, 2018.
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