Cantilena Quartet tries for strength, lands in syrup


November 05, 1990|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Last night in Shriver Hall the Cantilena Piano Quartet played a sleepy program in a sleepy manner. The piano quartets of Aaron Copland and Gabriel Faure (No. 1 in C Minor) are fairly strong pieces, but combining them with the Vincent D'Indy piano quartet made for an evening that sometimes felt like swimming upstream in syrup. It was a snoozerama.

The playing didn't help matters. The ensemble of the Cantilena players (pianist Frank Glazer, violinist Edna Michell, violist Philipp Naegele and cellist Steven Thomas) was often weak, the intonation was sometimes unsteady and the tone was frequently unattractive.

The worst performance of the night came in the weakest music. Some of the music of D'Indy is still on the fringes of the repertory -- it was only a few seasons back that the Baltimore Symphony programmed his once-popular "Symphony on a French Mountain Air" -- but it largely deserves its current neglect. His Piano Quartet in A Minor sounds like warmed-over Cesar Franck -- a good deal of Gallic grunting and groaning all tied together through cyclic form. Suffice it to say that last night's sloppy, out-of-tune performance did not make a strong case for the music. As for the music, let's hope that it will pass from obscurity into oblivion.

Copland's Quartet for Piano and Strings is much stronger (and better) stuff. This 1950 work marked the first time the composer of "Appalachian Spring" tried his hand -- in the first movement -- at 12-tone composition. (Actually, Copland's tone row contains 11 instead of 12 notes and strongly suggests tonality.)

The quartet is a playful, witty and moving work. The second movement features a jazzy, driving melody, and the piano's entrance in the third movement deliberately recalls the opening of "Three Blind Mice." But

the third movement also has a hymn-like section, and the whole piece ends in a deeply personal way. The Cantilena players -- who have recorded the piece -- gave their best performance of the evening. It was strong, assured and accurate.

The Faure Quartet in C Minor, which concluded the concert, is filled with rhythmic force and fiery interchanges between the instruments. This is music that has always attracted virtuosos -- the pianists who have recorded the Faure include Arthur Rubinstein and Emil Gilels -- and it needs virtuosity to succeed. The performance of the Cantilena players simply did not provide the verve the music needs.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.