Four soloists give brilliant concert at Shriver Hall

November 15, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Throw together a distinguished group of players and chances are the results won't be as good as they might be with with less brilliant stars who have performed together longer. There are occasions, however, when such temporary constellations are brilliant indeed. One of them took place Saturday evening in Shriver Hall when four young virtuosi with substantial solo careers -- pianist Christopher O'Riley, violinist Pamela Frank, violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Carter Brey -- got together to perform three piano quartets.

The program was the E-flat Quartet of Mozart (K. 493), the G minor of Faure (opus 45) and a new piece by the young American composer, Aaron Kernis, "Still Movement With Hymn." The latter was commissioned by American Public Radio this year for its 10th anniversary and is dedicated to Kenneth Dayton, the Minneapolis philanthropist who is one of the most important reasons why that city's arts organizations are as strong as they are.

Dayton's love of music and his service to it has been richly rewarded. "Still Movement With Hymn" is in one movement and is about 25 minutes long.

The quartet apparently takes its title from the fact that it consists mostly of very slow, still music over which a long-breathed

melody -- exquisitely voiced by all four instruments, sometimes singly and sometimes in all possible combinations -- moves. Although Kernis has studied with (among others) Jacob Druckman and John Adams, the big influence here seemed to be Shostakovich. The Russian's imprint was obvious not only in the music's dirge-like progression, but also in some of the writing for the piano (often little more than simple, though expressive, block chords) and for strings (the wraith-like harmonics and the passionate, tzigane-like character of the bravura writing). But the composer whose voice was strongest -- this is why "Still Movement With Hymn" is a strong piece -- was Kernis.

This powerful music was brilliantly played by the four young musicians. They also gave superlative performances of the other pieces -- a sparkling, Elysian reading of the Mozart and one of the Faure that combined civilized elegance with enormous energy.

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