ALBANY -- The Borromeo String Quartet returned to the Massry Center for the Arts Sunday afternoon and gave not only an educational presentation but played sensationally. The concert was part of the Renaissance Musical Arts series. Violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Kristopher Tong, violist Mai Motobuchi and cellist Yeesun Kim have been together for several years and accumulated many awards in an international career. So it wasn't unexpected to hear how well they listen to each other to play as one voice or that their pitch, techniques and phrasing had a crystalline perfection.
But they go beyond these basics to invest every note as if it were the most important sound in the world. This gave the four works they performed an immediacy, a freshness that pulled the crowd in. Even that wasn't all.
The quartet has since 2007 used laptops that picture the music they play. A touch of a toe "turns" the page. Kitchen said this software has also made it possible for them to use a manuscript copy of the score of many pieces, which has expanded the quartet's understanding of the music and made for better performances. Some of Kitchen's pages were also projected on a screen, which allowed the audience to follow along. This was especially interesting in Schubert's Quartet in D minor ("Death and the Maiden") of 1824. To see where Schubert had crossed out bars to prolong a cadence or add some ideas was fascinating.
The Borromeo began with one of Brahms' organ preludes, "Lo how a rose e'r blooming," which Kitchen arranged. The quartet sounded smooth with unobtrusive entrances as it passed the pretty melody around. Mohammed Fairouz's lyrical Chorale Fantasy (2010) moved seamlessly through melancholic, dark harmonies to quicker passages in different scales, which had a kind of angst, before ending peacefully. The quartet played with passion and intensity, delicate articulations and little vibrato.
For Dvorak's Quartet in F Major ("American Quartet") of 1893, the first movement of a 1926 recording done by the Bohemian Quartet was played. Kitchen said that quartet, which had known Dvorak, played the piece with such flavor that it had inspired the Borromeo. The Bohemian's style was a bit rougher with strong accents and many changes of tempo but there was a personality and mellowness to the playing.
The Borromeo then performed the four movements. Their tempos were a little less driven, but their refined and cleanly etched lines were supported with an exuberant mood. Nothing was untoward, and the tone was luminous. It's hard to go wrong with Dvorak's wealth of melody, and the Borromeo soared. The final two movements were vibrant and the piece ended with a thrilling dash of speed.
The four movements of Schubert's quartet had everything a listener could want: drama, intensity, passion, delicacy, exceptional lyricism and interesting lines. The Borromeo played with a controlled abandon that was not only immaculate but left the audience wanting more. Sadly, no encore this time.