Beethoven's string quartets are such monuments of chamber music that his other efforts in writing for small string groups are unfortunately overshadowed. The String Trios, op. 9, and the String Quintet, op. 29, are every bit as worthy of inclusion into the chamber music pantheon as Beethoven's quartets, and yet, because they have one less or one more instrument than Beethoven's string quartets, they rarely figure in articles or discussions of Beethoven's chamber music. Add to this the paucity of professional string trios and no professional string quintets, and this translates into few opportunities to hear these marvelous works in the concert hall.
Fortunately, festivals where chamber music specialists are amassed, such as Mainly Mozart or Summerfest, are occasions to perform compositions in less standard configurations. Take a distinguished string quartet like the Borromeo Quartet, add an equally superlative violist like Paul Neubauer, and you have an opportunity to hear how Beethoven's Quintet, op. 29, forms a sturdy and wonderful bridge between his six early String Quartets, op. 18, and the middle-period Razumovsky quartets, op. 59.
The Borromeo has always impressed with their uncanny sense of cohesion and unity; as a great pianist plays a solo work with complete control and purpose, so too do the members of the Borromeo Quartet (Nicholas Kitchen, Kristopher Tong, violin; Mai Motobuchi, viola; and Yeesun Kim, cello) subsume their personalities into a marvelous gestalt which brings to life the notes of composers. Into their close-knit musical community slipped violist Paul Neubauer, merging seamlessly into this group-mind as if the five of them played together every week. The result was a magnificent account of an infrequently heard masterpiece.
The concert began with the world premiere of Anthony Newman's Sonata Populare, given an arresting performance by violinist David Coucheron, ably accompanied by the composer on piano. In the preconcert talk, Newman said that the work's title referred to its accessibility to a typical classical music audience, as opposed to a sonata that uses popular music materials. In five concise and clear movements, Newman took the audience on a musical journey which was conventional in form, but revealed many surprises and diversions along the way in the form of unexpected bitonal or chromatic chords in the midst of an 18th or 19th-century harmonic route.
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