Shanghai Quartet's playing: mostly hits

October 10, 1994|By David Donovan | David Donovan,Special to The Sun

The Candlelight Concert Society opened its season Saturday night at Howard Community College Theatre with a performance by the Shanghai String Quartet.

The strength of the quartet lies in the hands of the two wonderful brothers Weigang Li and Honggang Li. Weigang Li is a superb first violinist with world class skills and the ability to alter his sound to meet the demands that great quartet writing can give the first violin. Honggang Li is every inch the artist and this reviewer felt that the second violin was one of the driving forces in the ensemble. The interplay between the two brothers was, at times, almost telepathic in nature.

Special mention must be made of the violist, Naomi Katz who is serving as a guest artist with the quartet. She played with great sensitivity and self-confidence. Her playing was warm and she fit into the ensemble perfectly. If she were to remain with the quartet, the group would certainly continue to grow musically.

The program opened with one of the early masterworks of Haydn, his Quartet in D major, Opus 20, No. 4. The performance had Beethovian grandeur. Particularly wonderful was the Menuet with its gypsy bite. The Li brothers made the finale sparkle and the Haydn wit and humor was in abundant supply.

The first half closed with the only real letdown with a workman presentation of Beethoven's Opus 18, No. 6. The quartet should foreshadow the late quartets but this performance was stuck in the past rather than predicting the future. One was made too aware of the details of composition. Truly great string quartets can make these subtle early quartets seem free and seamless.

The evening closed with a glowing Dvorak Quartet in A-flat major. This work really doesn't have as many problems as the Beethoven and the Shanghai gave a truly idiomatic reading of this beautiful music. The second movement was played with abundant Czech flavor; the trio section was filled with tender fervency. The very best cello playing by James Wilson was in the lusty finale.

This quartet is entering its second decade and has much to offer nTC and plenty of room to expand. As long as the two marvelous Li brothers want to play string quartets, we have the tantalizing hope of reaching quartet nirvana.

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