February 3, 2006

Tokyo Quartet overwhelms audience with understated tribute to Mozart

The Tokyo String Quartet celebrated Mozart’s 250th birthday in Mandel Hall on Friday—not with the musical pyrotechnics of his flashier works but with the mild and serene beauty of his Quartet in F Major for Oboe and Strings and the Quintet in A Major for Clarinet and Strings.

Both the quartet and soloists played with a captivating sensitivity that made Mozart’s power to entwine the emotions of his audience impossible to ignore. Dvorak’s Quartet in F Major, also known as “The American,” separated the two pieces with welcome flair and excitement.

Oboist Alexei Ogrintchouk started the program with an animated and extremely emotional performance. The strings that supported him sounded almost muted next to the piercing and often mournful tones of his oboe. The instrument was used to its fullest potential, displaying nearly its full range in tone and dynamic. Orgintchouk’s performance was ideal; he played with stunning intensity and clarity that maximized the impact of every note.

Dvorak’s Quartet in F—the only piece that the quartet played on its own—provided a tasteful contrast to the two Mozart pieces that sandwiched it. Reflecting its later time period, the Dvorak was more suspenseful. Not every phrase is as neatly resolved as in Mozart’s music, but a stirring melody remains in the foreground. It also made great use of sharp dynamic contrast, a technique Mozart is said to have possibly pioneered. Though still tuneful and easy to listen to, “The American” proved somewhat less predictable and slightly more rousing than its older, more reserved counterparts. The quartet’s performance reflected the relative youth of the piece with its liveliness.

The third piece in the program, Mozart’s Quintet in A, differed from the oboe quartet in its warmth and fullness of tone. Unlike the oboe (which provided a distinct and mournful melody that stood apart from the strings that accompanied it), the clarinet blended and joined with the sound of the strings.

Clarinetist Sabine Meyer made her technically impressive performance seem both effortless and passionate. Each phrase that she glided through was at the same time smooth and dynamically charged. Meyer and the quartet complimented each other as though they had always played together. The feeling of carefree enjoyment was almost palpable in their encore performance of Weber’s Quintet for Clarinet.

It is easy to see why the Tokyo Quartet has built such an excellent reputation. They play with startling vivacity and subtle reserve, and they are the type of performers that seem to dissolve into the music that they are playing. Their fervor for the music is contagious; the audience can’t help but be swept away with them.