Jupiter Quartet, Joyce Yang team up for wide-ranging program

June 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm

By Keith Powers

The Jupiter String Quartet performed Saturday and Sunday at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. Photo: Michael J. Lutch

There’s a certain momentum that builds during summer music festivals. When the Jupiter String Quartet took the Shalin Liu Performance Center stage Sunday afternoon at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, just hours after completing an ambitious Saturday evening program, it seemed liked the music had hardly stopped at all.

The two programs combined to give a strong sense that Jupiter, always talented, has reached that stage where musical expression, not technical proficiency, has become the focus. Saturday’s recital, quartets by Schubert, Britten and Dvorak, was an intensely alert investigation of the musical possibilities in each work.

On Sunday, sandwiched around a rapturous reading of Bartok’s Out of Doors suite by the prodigiously gifted pianist Joyce Yang, Jupiter offered a Mozart’s Quartet in D major K. 575, and collaborated on César Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor.

The Mozart D major comes from a set of three that spotlight the cello, because of their commissioning agent, the amateur cellist (and King of Prussia) Wilhelm II. The opening Allegretto began slowly, the group settling in. It’s a symmetrical movement, with a heroic phrase beginning in the first violin that passes through the foursome before returning at the climax. By the time first chair Nelson Lee recapitulated the theme, the work was in full swing.

The slow movement has great eloquence, but the quartet’s most distinctive character develops in the minuet/trio third movement, with its rising and falling dynamics, the trio section emphasizing a dialogue between cello (Daniel McDonough) and viola (Liz Freivogel). The cellist does indeed dominate the finale, a rondo with intense counterpoint.

Yang altered the mood entirely with a rollicking and intense attack on the colorful Out of Doors suite. Its five movements programmatically work through pianistic depictions of musical instruments, folk songs, and the sounds of wildlife. It’s a brilliantly percussive showpiece of technical demands, with tricky pedaling, trilling everywhere and motoric, pounding left-hand sections.

Yang made it all musical, no mean achievement. An opening section imitates drums and pipes in a folksy, syncopated way. A barcarolle follows, rhythm and accents bobbing about in almost every measure, the left hand arpeggiating, and seasickness (the ocean view out the glass window backstage particularly appropriate) ensured. The clever Musette movement followed, a bumpy invocation of mistuned toy instruments.

The heartiest sections come at then end, the slow Night’s Music, a soothing nocturne repeatedly interrupted by imitative frogs, birds and insects; and the rigorous Chase, with the left-hand pinned to a raucous ostinato, while the right hand tries to find the fox.

The Quartet returned to join Yang for a memorable performance of the Franck’s Romantic quintet. Long lines, delineated individually in the strings, then overlapping, with piano undercurrents, build an incredible tension in the opening Lento section. The players, especially Yang, seemed deeply engaged by the time the main theme burst forth, and the Allegro section of the first movement, enhanced by numerous runs up to stuck rests, had great momentum.

A piano and violin duet opened the pensive middle movement, which was highlighted by many other smaller pairings and solo lines. The movement attacks to the finale, which opens tremolo in the second violin, a technique that passes through the strings and enhances the chromatic restlessness that stretches the home key in all directions. That expansive character filled the finale with driving energy right to the climax.

The Rockport Chamber Music Festival continues through July 14. rockportmusic.org; 978-546-7391.

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