Besides presenting a wide spectrum of professional musicians, the Carol Woods Retirement Community concert series is an ideal venue for showcasing rising young teenage artists in training. This final concert of the season welcomed the return of the Epsilon Quartet. The players range in age 18-19 years and have played together for several years under the tutelage of local musicians. Despite their having gone on to different advanced schools, they still get together to play quartets.
The quartet is led by 19-year-old violinist Daniel Yu, an East Chapel Hill High School 2016 graduate, who is studying Music and Computer Science at Williams College. He also plays viola. Second violinist 18-year-old Jimho Kang wore two hats for this concert, very ably playing the piano for Mozart K. 478. He studied with Dmitri Shteinberg at the UNC School of the Arts and will study with Alexander Kobrin at the Eastman School of Music next fall in Rochester. Violist 18-year-old Nathaniel Lai, another 2016 graduate of East Chapel Hill High School, currently studies Biology and Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Cellist 18-year-old Evan Jiang, a 2017 graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, is planning to continue studying music at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.
The Piano Quartet in No. 1 in G minor, K. 478 (1785) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) opened the concert. G minor was a special key for the composer, called "the composer's key of fate" by Alfred Einstein. It is in three movements. A despondent mood hovers over the opening dramatic, trenchant Allegro and melancholic, slow Andante. The concluding Rondo explodes with melodies, providing foil to the preceding two.
Mozart is an effective acid test of any musician's chops! Any sloppy playing will stand out with no cover. The Epsilon players exhibited considerable skill and musical insight. Kudos to pianist Kang who, with the lid fully raised, balanced the sound of the Yamaha perfectly with his string colleagues. His keyboard efforts were outstanding with refined dynamics and crisp and clear articulation. String intonation was very good as was overall ensemble. They brought plenty of drama to the opening movement while the complex interweaving of melodies in the finale remained remarkably clear. Their refined control of the seamless, simple melodic line of the slow movement was a highlight.
My favorite Razumovsky quartet, the Quartet in C, Op. 59, No. 3 (1806) ("Hero") by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) ended the concert. The opening movement begins eerily before presenting dramatic themes. The slow movement, called a "lament" by Vincent D'Indy, features a first theme consisting of a heavy, sad violin line over repeated cello pizzicato notes. The following minuet has a languorous line underpinned with a rhythmic pulse. The massive finale, the reason for its nickname "Hero," features considerable expansion with homophony juxtaposed against complex polyphony along with contrapuntal episodes.
The Epsilon Quartet gave a remarkably mature interpretation for such young players. There no lack of drama and passion in their playing and their palette of dynamics was very effective. The gravity of the second movement's opening was very effective with the repeated episodes of deeply resonant cello pizzicatos. Epsilon's consistent and intense control of the tricky finale was rewarded by an enthusiastic standing ovation. It is hoped the Epsilon will be able to return in May 2018.