Borromeo brings vibrancy to SummerFest


It's hard to think of Haydn as a composer of "new music." But the Borromeo String Quartet, in Saturday's rewarding "Age of Enlightenment" SummerFest program at St. James by-the-Sea, found a way to make the 1797 String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 76, seem as if the ink were still dry on the page. Or, in the case of the Borromeo, still flickering on its laptops.

Onstage, the ensemble reads off laptops in place of sheet music. But that's incidental to the freshness and the probing musicality violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong, violist Mai Motobuchi and cellist Yeesun Kim brought to one of Haydn's most cherished quartets.

The Borromeo has been a welcome and versatile presence at SummerFest. It showed poise and passion in Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings in Friday's opening program and integrated itself seamlessly into the chamber ensemble assembled for Handel's high-spirited Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 5, which opened Saturday's program.

In the Handel, Kitchen and Tong relished playing the dueling solo violin parts. They, with conductor and organist Anthony Newman, spearheaded a vibrant interpretation that had both the splendor and the rhythmic buoyancy that characterizes Handel's music.

But it was in the Haydn that the ensemble went a little deeper under the surface and found a piece that must have astonished late-18th-century audiences when they first heard it.

The opening Allegro con spirito had a rhapsodic, even improvisational quality to it. You expect the opening violin melody, which inspired the quartet's "sunrise" nickname, to be played with a degree of freedom, and Kitchen spun it out beautifully, but you don't expect the ensemble fluidity and flexibility the quartet brought to the entire movement. It was as if one mind were controlling all four instruments.

The second movement is marked Adagio, and the quartet took it at such a slow pace that the individual lines threatened to pull apart and the ensemble come unglued. But somehow the Borromeo held it together, with the resulting payoff that each melody seemed to take on a life of its own.

In similar fashion, the third movement, Menuetto: Allegro, and the fourth movement, Finale: Allegro, also revealed their secrets. You couldn't help but feel as if you were hearing this work for the first time.

By James Chute | Aug 8, 2010, SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE
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