ALTHOUGH THE ACCOMPANYING NOTES exhorted us to pay attention to composer Karl Weigl as an important, neo-Romantic voice (he lived from 1881-1949), his String Quartet No. 5 in G Major began with a pleasant, forgettable dullness.
Who made a superb choice in programming, because, as the Weigl quartet unfolded, that first impression was completely contradicted. While the first movement gave a sense of Schubert tinged with Richard Strauss, the second showed Weigl on his own, with exciting rhythms and a good use of instrumental timbre.
His obviously Viennese sensibility straddled the salon and saloon throughout the piece; while the Larghetto was refined and lovely, the concluding Allegro began with a funny out-of-tune sequence that led to a rollicking dance.
Although Weigl finished his career in the U.S., teaching at several renowned schools, his music isn't well-promoted. Which is too bad; he probably would have profited by joining his fellow expatriates in Hollywood, where he could have turned his wit and skill to the movies, which needed (and made good use of) such talent.
The concert opened with Beethoven's Quartet No. 1, giving us, between that and the Weigl, a kind of 19th-century overview. Although it was published as Beethoven's first essay in this form, it's an accomplished piece that wouldn't be mistaken for the work of any other.
As performed by the New World Quartet, it was a traditional reading in search of a more unique identity. Good, brisk tempos were used throughout, although what must have been considered a Viennese sense of interpretation was imposed from time to time, giving unexpected hesitations between the structural sections the piece.
Clarinettist David Shifrin performed the Brahms Quintet in B Minor with the group to conclude the concert with a masterful presentation.
Strings and clarinet don't naturally complement one another; the wind instrument has a dry, steady tone that clashes with the sweet vibrato of the strings. But Shifrin and the quartet shaped and guided the sound to accommodate Brahms's requirements throughout.
The piece is written with shrewd awareness of that contrast, and takes advantage of any awkwardness. In the second movement, for instance, the clarinet is given very emotional outbursts from time to time in the context of an otherwise subdued Adagio, and, like a skilled actor, Shifrin carefully modulated his voice throughout such passages for the most effective result.
By the end of that movement, in which the clarinet leads the first violin through an extraordinarily lovely, simple phrase, it was astonishing to realize the gamut of sound and feeling these players had thus far achieved.
The finale, a theme and variations, was in a way its own encore, presenting the players in an easygoing summary of all the nuance that had come before, for a very satisfying conclusion.
The Friends of Chamber Music begins its 1989-1990 season Oct. 16 with a performance at Kiggins Hall by the Borealis Wind Quintet.
– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 14 April 1989