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Student quintet delivers solid, enjoyable recital


MIT Chamber Music Society.

Works by Beethoven, G. Cobb, and A. Dvorak.

Featuring Kay Ann Chen '97, violin; Susan M. Park '98, violin; Jennifer E. Grucza '98, viola; Edward C. Wu '98, cello; Jason C. Wong, '99, piano.

Monday, Feb. 19.

Killian Hall.

By Michael K. Chung
Staff Reporter

This past Presidents' Day was celebrated in grand style by a piano quintet of the MIT Chamber Music Society. Having delayed their performance from the end of the fall semester because of an injured pianist, the ensemble chose to add to their program a movement of an early period Beethoven quartet and a short ragtime piece titled Russian Rag. The hour-long performance was marked by impassioned playing, contrasted with bright spirit, and a sense of enjoyment by the audience as well as the performers.

The concert opened in dramatic fashion with the first movement of Beethoven's' String Quartet No. 4. Beethoven's early-period chamber music is distinguished in the emulation of his contemporaries' string quartet compositions, notably those of Haydn and Mozart. Opening with mystery and suspense, the quartet captured the essence of the dramatic piece. First violinist Kay Ann Chen '97 competently met the challenges presented to her. Aside from several minor intonational errors, Chen deftly handled the sixteenth-note passages in their scale-wise ascents to the upper register of the instrument.

Overall, the blend and balance of the group was solid and consistent. Particularly noteworthy was cellist Edward C. Wu's '98 dramatic glissando in his solo toward the end of the movement. Second violinist Susan M. Park '98 also performed lyrically and precisely in her solo. Also contributing to the blend of the quartet was the playful exchange between the bass instruments and the violins in the almost conversational chord sequences at cadences. The piece ended powerfully with a strong and well-conceived conclusion.

Russian Rag, a gem by twentieth-century composer G. Cobb, was enjoyed by the audience but even more so by its performers. From the opening descent in unison, the drama and mood of Russia were encapsulated by playful dotted rhythms contrasted with lyrical melodic lines floating above the background pizzicatos. Clearly, the ensemble adored the work: The players traded smiles throughout the performance. Who could blame them? Especially wonderful was a double-stop passage of descending thirds by Chen. More important, though, was the charming style and warm tone of all the players and their instrument.

Antonin Dvorak's A Major Piano Quintet is a long and difficult work, demanding much technique and emotion. The opening movement is itself a complete work, combining lush romanticism with strains of Czechoslovakian folk melodies. The piece starts with a calm cello introduction; then, almost without warning, except for a rapid crescendo, accelerando, and ascent by the piano, the piece launches into the allegro section. While this movement is highly romantic, it is not to be presented as gushy as one would perform a piece by twentieth-century composer Sergei Rachmaninov, and the ensemble did well in playing passionately, but not overindulging.

The first movement is patterned in a style similar to the weather patterns of this past winter in Boston - calm, storm, calm, storm, and so on. Each solo section was performed very cleanly and artfully, particularly by Jennifer E. Grucza '99 (viola) and Wu (cello). Though Wu's cello solos were performed beautifully, it seemed that his decrescendo was a little rushed in handing the melody over to the rest of the ensemble. No doubt, though, this took nothing away from their rendition of this work.

Pianist Jason C. Wong '99 is to be commended for not only leading the group smoothly through gracefully executed tempo changes, but also managing to play his part with such accuracy and precision, especially after coming back from a broken finger.

The second movement, called the Dumka, is a collection of dances, and is known to be quite tricky in keeping the tempo changes in harmony with the spirit of the piece. The quintet performed these changes very effectively, with uniformity, precision, and solid execution. Again, all the solos were performed lyrically, especially the first violins solo on the G string. Reaching halfway up the fingerboard, Chen was able to produce an ethereal tone of breathtaking effect. Also notable was the viola solo serving as a calm after the storm. Reaching into the upper range of her instrument, Grucza played with a serenity that transported us with its mood.

Throughout the movement, the effects of syncopation contributed to driving the tempo forward very effectively. The only noticeable difficulty was that sometimes the melody line was clouded over by the other voices, mostly because of the playing of high notes on the lower strings. The ending faded out very effectively, giving an ethereal and withdrawing effect.

The scherzo was marked by a sprightly and lively spirit. Aside from some minor intonational slips on the second violin part, the dance-like spirit was captured beautifully. Particularly catching was the soft, almost raindrop-like playing on the high keys of the piano. The opening of the fourth movement was bold and powerful, but at times had a slightly uncertain cadence.

The piece was performed with much clarity, precision, passion, and bright spirit. The ending of the Dvorak was well-executed, accurate, and exciting. Without doubt, this ensemble performed some considerably difficult music of the repertoire very competently. After the performance, Park noted that she was pleased because they had "nailed the spots that [they] had practiced in their last rehearsal."

Overall, the recital was an exciting, impressive, and enjoyable one. And it was a fitting tribute to the vast amount of musical talent on campus.