Written By Joel Benjamin
December 4th, 2012
For a chamber music lover there can be no better place to see and hear a string quartet than in a small…chamber! The Metropolitan Playhouse in the East Village was the perfect venue for the Iris Quartet which played an ambitious program that ranged from Mozart to Michael Kosch. Watching the members of the Iris Quartet watching each other, taking subtle signals, their fingers flying over their instruments, was a joy, something that is missed in larger performing spaces.
Mozart’s String Quartet in D Major, “The Prussian,” K.575 was the perfect opening work with its lighthearted feel and playful camaraderie. Themes are tossed in a follow-the-leader format from instrument to instrument. A cello theme in the third, Menuetto movement is, perhaps, a nod toward the work’s commissioner, King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia who was a cellist, himself. The Iris Quartet brought out the contrasts between the busier outer movements and the quieter inner movements. This wasn’t deep music, just lovely and satisfying.
More emotional was Samuel Barber’s String Quartet Op. 11, from which the famous “Adagio for Strings” has been excerpted on many “Best Adagio” recordings. It opens with a passionate, almost agitated movement and ends in a noisy cacophony of melodies doing battle with each other. In between in the Molto adagio, one of the best known works to even those who know little about classical music, blossoms like a sad flower, climbing to an exquisite climax as the overlapping chords suddenly unite. The Iris musicians hit all the highpoints effectively, communicating the darkness of this masterful string quartet by one of America’s finest composers.
Yibin Li, the Quartet’s First Violin, played an excerpt from Michael Kosch’s recent Giotto for violin solo. Kosch’s work, inspired by the early Renaissance Florentine artist, Giotto, consists of 27 solos for violin of which Ms. Li played the very short XVII. Allegro con fuoco, the last word meaning “fire” in Italian. This was the key to this section, an angular, dramatic piece, ending too quickly, whetting the appetite to hear the rest of Kosch’s work. Ms. Li handled the quicksilver changes with aplomb.
The final work was Beethoven’s late Quartet in F Major, Op. 135, a famously challenging work that runs the gamut from the nervous, rhythmically changeable opening to the dark last movement. My personal favorite is the third movement, Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo, which is a quiet oasis of calmness and beauty. Again the Iris players took on the challenges with great technique and feeling.
The Iris Quartet took full advantage of the Metropolitan Playhouse. The members, Ms. Li (violin), Muneyoshi Takahashi (violin), Entela Barci (viola) and Sean Katsuyama (cello), make a lively ensemble which clearly as a great future if this concert is any indication.
The Iris Quartet
The Metropolitan Playhouse
220A East 4th St. (Bet. Aves. A & B)
New York, NY
Tickets: 800-838-8002 or www.metropolitanplayhouse.org
More Information: www.IrisQuartet.com