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Chamber Music Wilmington consistently presents performances of the highest artistic order. Their opening concert of the 2016-17 season sustained that standard with a recital by the Zorá String Quartet. This young ensemble already has an impressive series of prizes to its credit, including the gold medal in the Fischoff Competition. Their concert, held in the acoustically superb Beckwith Recital Hall, on the campus of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, made their high artistic caliber abundantly clear.
The opening work was Mozart's Quartet in D minor, K. 421. The start of the piece immediately highlighted the group's clarity of tone and precision of ensemble. However, it didn't fully capture the dark, turbulent quality of this dramatic music. When the lighter major mode section arrived, it seemed too similar in character. In the development, there were strong shifts that brought out more drama, and the return became more impassioned. Even so, one would have wanted a greater contrast in character coming into the second movement.
Here there was fine, gentle lyricism with drawn-out melodic phrases, especially by Dechopol Kowintaweewat playing first violin. There was an effective color change into the minor, followed by slicing passion in the brief chordal section and a perfect transition back to the major.
The third movement Minuet once again showcased the ensemble's perfection of rhythm. More of the darkness of the piece came through here than in the first movement. The first violin reached up beautifully to the apex of phrases and the unison playing was flawless.
The final movement had more beautiful moments of phrasing by the entire quartet. Overall, despite the beauties, there was some lack of tonal differentiation; one wished for more focus on the soft side of the dynamic spectrum.
If the Mozart was a performance containing many beauties, the following La Oración del Torero (The Bullfighter's Prayer) by Joaquín Turina was simply beautiful. There was an immediate atmosphere. Here was the pianissimo one wished for in the Mozart (albeit at first with the aid of mutes). Later a soft prayerful quality emerged without the use of mutes; the ensemble clearly had an affinity for this music. There were rich drawn out phrases from the cello (played by Zizai Ning) and the three upper instruments produced an ethereal tone in the higher range. At the return there was once again a whispering soft. The purity of the high-range sound at the end of the piece – a passage requiring high technical skill - was exquisite. A hush kept the audience in the spell of the moment until finally applause seemed possible.
The second half was devoted to Debussy's String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10. This was a greatly satisfying performance. The first movement had more rich cello playing and also energetic oscillating figures in the accompaniment. The inner instruments (Seula Lee, second violin and Pablo Muñoz Salido, viola) had a great deal to do with creating this dynamism. There were large dynamic contrasts and a particularly expressive attention to dissonance, the flux of tension and release. The entire movement was played with gusto.
The second movement had tight pizzicato and a swaying quality imparted by effective use of swells. The accompaniment was phrased as beautifully as the melody. The ending was another wonderful passage of maximally soft. This happened again in the third movement, which ended with a perfect fade. There were also more beautiful unison sounds and a lovely iridescent tone on the quietly-entering chords.
The fourth movement brought the piece and the concert to a passionate ending, while along the way there was more glowing tone from the accompaniment. An encore would have been very well received; or perhaps the program was perfect just as it was.