Two different string ensembles comprised of eleven faculty members of the Brevard Music Center Summer Festival and Institute took the stage at Brevard College’s Porter Center to perform two iconic works that could not have been more different. The fact that both were programmed together and separated by an intermission was fortuitous, as each afforded a sonic experience enriched by its polar opposite. Players for the Mozart String Quintet in C major, K. 515 were Carolyn Huebl and Jason Posnock, violins; Scott Rawls and Jennifer Kozoroz, violas, and Benjamin Karp, cello. Those performing the Tchaikovsky String Sextet in D minor, Op. 70 "Souvenir de Florence" after intermission were Byron Tauchi and Timothy Christie, violins; Pamela Ryan and Maggie Snyder, violas; and Yumi Kendall and Alistair MacRae, cellos. This concert was the last chamber music concert of the BMC season in a series sponsored by the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation.
Mozart’s Quintet is a work of his later years in Vienna and reveals a composer who was completely at ease in this string genre. The classical formal elements are all in place, and yet the master’s inventiveness keeps rearing its head in delightful ways. Most of all, he knew not to overload the music, and the same elegant clarity and perfect sense of balance shine throughout. The ensemble was perfectly in tune with the essence of this music. These first-rank players, each one an accomplished soloist I’m sure, really knew how to make the ensemble work. The first movement “Allegro” opens with a “Mannheim rocket,” an ascending arpeggio that wafts more than rockets upward in the cello and is answered by the first violin. Thus the stage is set for a musical conversation dominated in this elegantly restrained movement by these two instruments. Huebl’s playing in particular was simply stunning — such beautiful tones and musicality! The third movement “Menuetto: Allegretto” was performed second, where Mozart impishly saw fit to write phrases of irregular lengths, as though to trip up some imagined dancers. This was followed by the second movement “Andante,” where Rawls gorgeous viola emerged as the independent voice. The final sunny and energetic “Allegro” with its rhythmic kinks toward the end brought the work to a satisfying close.
After intermission the Tchaikovsky String Sextet came on like gangbusters, a piece of such unrelenting intensity that its very opening sounds like the resumption of music already in progress. Such muscular music, performed with incessant tremulos and figurations with few reductions of texture or moments of repose, gives the impression that the composer was still attempting to write an orchestral piece with six instruments. Add to this its highly charged emotional plane, ramped up by the increased tempi at the ends of movements one and four, and you have a piece where it’s not only the players who break a sweat. What an interesting amalgam of west (formal elements, including a fugue in the fourth movement) and east (the folksy third and fourth movements)! The ensemble, especially first violinist Tauchi and cellist Kendall, acquitted themselves admirably of this intense and occasionally overwrought masterpiece and brought the evening’s longest applause. But I felt that both ensembles, each portraying a completely separate artistic vision, deserved equal and lavish praise.