by Kevin McLaughlin
The high-ceilinged, cozy barn of Dunham Tavern and Museum on a Sunday afternoon was a perfect setting to bask in the company and expertise of the Omni Quartet, who delivered a delightful program of Haydn, Shaw, and Mendelssohn. As the sun lowered and the excellence of the playing and geniality of the players took hold, a glow of contentment began to fill the space.
Founded in 2009, Omni Quartet members Amy Lee and Alicia Koelz (violins), Joanna Zakany (viola), and Tanya Ell (cello), all members of The Cleveland Orchestra, were convivial hosts, guiding the audience with verbal introductions to each work and brief excerpts by way of guideposts. While this can be overdone, here it was just enough to help the listener stay on the path. The commentaries and demonstrations worked out ahead of time were the most effective.
In her remarks about Haydn’s Quartet in F, Op. 77, No. 2, violinist Alicia Koelz emphasized the humor and elements of surprise present in the work. Sure enough, Haydn made us laugh, even when we knew the comedy was coming. Whether in the harmonic meanderings, the startling unison tremolo in the first movement, the rhythmic hijinks in the Minuet (a 2/4 march embedded in 3/4), or similar tugs of two against three in the final Vivace, the Omni told every joke with perfect timing and drollery. Koelz, playing first violin, amazed in the Rossini-like barnburner of a finale. Speed and rhythm were kept exact in both soft and loud passages. And is it possible that after the last chord I smelled smoke?
Violist Joanna Zakany’s introduction to Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte (2011) included this composer note: “Entr’acte is an homage to the second movement (minuet) of Haydn’s Op. 77, No. 2, but in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition…[taking] you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass.”