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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sparkle and Spirit

Classical Review

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The Fine Arts Quartet finished their spring season in fine form last Sunday, proving that well-known works can sound fresh and exciting when performed by master musicians. Violinists Ralph Evans & Efim Boico, violist Yuri Gandelsman and cellist Wolfgang Laufer were joined by pianist Gisele Witkowski in the Quintet in E Flat by Robert Schumann, a staple of the chamber music repertoire.

This performance showed the Fine Arts at their best, with a rich sound and effortless musicality. Witkowski proved a fully expressive yet sensitive partner to the quartet, the two forces equal in technique and temperament. The first movement’s stately melodies contrasted nicely to the second movement’s joyless march. The Scherzo’s nimble scale-like riffs seemed at once fleeting and profound, and the final canons and fugue were handled with precision and care.

The program at the UW-Milwaukee’s ZelazoCenter opened with the String Quartet No.1 by Camille Saint-Sans. The work is thick in orchestration and claustrophobic with tight harmonies, and themes undulate with restless momentum. The performance would have benefited from more extremes in dynamics, but rhythm was tight and passages clean.

The program was shared with the Witkowski Piano Duo from Brazil. Gisele Witkowski was joined by Fbio Witkowski to present works for one piano four hands. The duo displays a homogeneous timbre and seamless ensemble.

Samuel Barber’s Souvenirs Ballet Suite consists of four short movements, all based on popular ballroom dances. The two players labored a bit too seriously on these lighthearted vignettes, but the overall effect proved charming. Two works by 20th-century composer and fellow Brazilian Francisco Mignone were given a wonderful performance, teeming with sparkle and spirit.