ARGENTINE MASTERWORK IN STELLAR PERFORMANCE
BY THE BERGONZI
By Lawrence Budmen
The Argentinean master Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was a prolific composer. His influences were many and diverse - native folk music, Italian opera, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and the composers of the second Viennese school (Schoenberg, Berg, Webern). Ginastera was an influential teacher and one of the most important musical voices of the Americas. (Due to political circumstances, the composer spent his later years in the United States and Switzerland.) Ginastera's "String Quartet No.1," Opus 20 held center place in the Festival Miami concert by the Bergonzi String Quartet on September 30, 2003 at UM's Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables.
In this 1948 score the spirit of Bartok looms large. The rhythmic drive of the outer movements melds Gypsy fiddling with the spirit of the Pampas. Bartok's "night music" (from his string quartets and second piano concerto) weaves a spell over Ginastera's slow movement. The Bergonzi players (Glenn Basham and Scott Flavin, violins; Pamela McConnell, viola; and Ross Harbaugh, cello) offered a stellar performance of this important work. The opening Allegro violento e agitato was bracing in its fierce, unrelenting propulsion. The strummed pizzicato of the Vivacisimo had great precision and impact. The third movement Calmo e poetico was played with remarkable intensity. This music is by turns eerie, poetic, and lyrical. Harbaugh's glorious cello solo (over high lying harmonics in the other strings) cut to the heart of this powerful music. The concluding Allegramente rustico was all high energy bravura. The musicians perfectly captured Ginastera's unique combination of folk elements and modern compositional techniques. The entire performance had a remarkable, focused intensity and real artistic fervor. Here was one of the Bergonzi Quartet's finest hours!
Antonin Dvorak's "Quintet in A Major" for Piano and Strings, Opus 81 is one of the great masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire. This score abounds in melodic inspiration, thematic diversity, and inventive musical elaboration and ornamentation. Pianist Tian Ying (a new UM faculty member) played less than memorable Rachmaninoff on Festival Miami's opening night. In this Dvorak masterwork, there was much to admire in Tian's performance. In the first movement Allegro ma non tanto he tended to be too agitated and bombastic. Once he settled into the score, Tian gave a deeply felt, often beautiful performance. In the wonderful Dumka: Andante con moto; Vivace, his playing was poetic with a fountainhead of tonal coloration. The delightful Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace was marked by brilliant virtuosity and rousing abandon. Tian brought pianistic power and glowing tone to the Finale: Allegro. His sensitive shaping of the musical line was often impressive. The Bergonzi Quartet was not always at their best in this Dvorak masterwork. Too often Basham and Harbaugh were carrying the performance. The second violin line was not always clearly audible. McConnell's viola needed to be more strongly assertive and precise. There was a moment in the final movement when the ensemble threatened to disintegrate. Yet the third movement was played with the requisite brilliance and energy.
The opening String Quartet in A Minor," Opus 13 by Felix Mendelssohn represents the composer at his most impassioned and dramatic. While their performance was not flawless, the Bergonzi players delivered much of the music's high romantic passion. At times the playing was too careful, but the performance gained momentum as it proceeded. The second movement Adagio non lento was played as the elongated lyrical song that it is. Basham phrased with grace and elegance in the inspired theme of the Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto - Allegro di molto. The pizzicato string accompaniment had verve and stylistic finesse. Much of the stormy passion of the Presto came through. Harbaugh's noble cello solos were always a joy to hear.
The Bergonzi Quartet has always excelled in 20th century and contemporary music. Their recent performance of an early Ned Rorem quartet was memorable. Several seasons ago they presented a warmly lyrical interpretation of Samuel Barber's "String Quartet" at Festival Miami. Their deeply committed, intense performance of the Ginastera string quartet presented the Bergonzi at their very best. This was a significant revival of an important 20th century score - a major contribution to the multicultural panorama of Festival Miami 2003.