Greensboro News and Record: Music review - Gerard Schwarz and Brahms highlight EMF Chamber concert

By Jackson Cooper

The communal feel of attending an EMF concert can be equated to the spirit of a Fourth of July barbecue. Enthusiastic grins and reconnecting with old friends is a common sight. The audience chatters like children in anticipation for the show they are about to witness.
This created an exciting buzz around the evening of chamber works presented by EMF faculty and guest artists as the final installment of the Monday chamber series, held Monday night at UNCG Recital Hall.

The evening opened with Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major, performed by soloist Katherine Young Steele on oboe and accompanied by violin, viola and cello. A welcoming start to the program, Mozart’s piece is a more traditional sounding chamber work. All four instrumentalists succeed in controlling Mozart’s sudden dynamic changes nicely. In multiple sections, they used slight tempo changes to heighten the expressiveness of the piece. Steele’s oboe playing was lyrical throughout, gracefully adding to a richly satisfying dialogue between the four musicians.
After the Mozart appetizer followed Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet performed with Jason Vieaux on guitar accompanied by viola, two violins and cello. Living in Madrid for most of his life, images of Spain sprung to mind in the opening moments of Boccherini’s piece. Vieaux played Boccherini’s shifts between accompanist and solo lines with grace and ease, controlling dynamics masterfully.
During the final movement, the aptly named “Fandango,” cellist Julian Schwarz provided aerobic and percussive playing that seemed to captivate the audience. He even took a short break during the piece to play on castanets, one of the two percussion instruments the program notes mention (the other, a sistrum rattle, was sadly absent from this performance). The inspired performing, with special shout-outs to Schwarz and Vieaux, brought the audience to its feet for three ovations.

Following intermission, EMF favorite Awadagin Pratt joined the faculty for a moving performance of Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor. Much darker and undulating in tone than other Brahms chamber works, the piece introduces in a musical idea which it riffs and rhapsodizes over the course of the opening movement, creating a dark tapestry of sound different from for instance, the playful Mozart from the first half. The tone of the first movement is one of uncertainty, creating a feeling of suspense as a listener.

The Andante section is a lighter detraction from the first movement, and Pratt and his cohorts made the shift in tones seamless to create a romantic intermezzo. A rousing Scherzo section followed, containing some ensemble glitches. Despite these, the climactic moments of exuberance were well captured by the players.

The Finale, a mirror to the first movement in contrasting tones, pushed the quintet into its most passionate playing, as if the musicians had been held back for three movements and now, they are able to let loose. Brahms’s sudden shifts in mood were thrilling to experience. By the time they reached the final chord, the audience did not seem to want it to be over. It makes you wish every Monday could be this inspiring.