IN: Reviews

Winning Chamber Music at Williams


The generous Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts continued its beguiling 2022 summer series this Monday at NEC’s Williams Hall with radiant violinist Qianqian Li, Principal of the NY Phil Second Violin Group; the inspiring cellist Nathan Vickery, who joined the NY Phil as its youngest member back in 2013; plus the celebrated violist Hsin-Yun Huang, noted soloist and teacher. Well-known pianist Yinfei Wang  joined them for quartets. These intelligently collaborative musicians came together just for this performance, yet their playing belied that fact.

Nathan Vickery, Hsin-Yun Huang, Yinfei Wang, and Qianqian Li (Xiaopei Xu photo)

Schubert’s Trio in B-flat Major for Violin, Viola and Cello D471 (1816), a lyrical, sweet and melodic 12-minute mini jewel, incorporates many nods to Mozart and Salieri. It requires intimate nuance and provides equal opportunities. Li’s phrasing ably supplied soaring optimism to the work, fully partnered by Huang and Vickery. One wishes this relatively early Schubert were a complete string trio, reminiscent of the best of classicism. Alas, the composer never finished the piece, leaving a fragment of an Andante Sostenuto, not often played (and not performed here). Nevertheless, the succulent 4/4 B-flat major Allegro charmed. Like the first (no longer extant) and the remaining extant Schubert string trio, which is a full four movements, this one is in B-flat major. Li’s violin sang the opening along with Huang’s oscillating eighth notes and Vickery’s sonorous lingering B-flat, repeated softly and then a more brilliantly in the second theme. After a coda for the exposition, the development and then recapitulation provided poetic, easy listening.

Wang joined the strings for Mozart’s G Minor K 478 piano quartet, commissioned in 1785 by Hoffmeister, during a period in which the form was rare. This first of Mozart’s piano quartets received mixed reviews and sold poorly, leading the patron to withdraw his support for another two piano quartets; despite that, the work has become a staple. The opening Allegro starts with a fanfare from the pianist, who, then, concerto-like, dominates the long movement. Only at measure 66 do the string players provide more than accompaniment, though the piece is intricate. The group played with verve, belying the negative opinions of 18th-century critics. The Andante began hymn-like on the piano, with the strings then embroidering it in a brighter B-flat major, languid and sonorous. The sunnier Rondo, mostly in G major, gave more meat for the strings; indeed, Li, Huang, and Vickery dug in with winning verve.

We eagerly awaited Schumann’s Piano Quartet E-flat Major in Opus 47 in four memorable movements. The reflective Sostenuto Assai introduction of the first movement introduces an Allegro the shape and instrumentation of which echoes the first movement of the Mozart  heard earlier, and provided Wang with an opportunity to shine. The second movement Scherzo, with its two trios, enchanted. Without sounding maudlin, Vickery’s collaborative musicianship along with his infectious engagement captured all ears and hearts in the Andante Cantabile. The final Vivace raced forward, executed well, producing palpable excitement.

In all, another gemütlich evening from the Foundation.

Amateur pianist and long-time music aficionado Julie Ingelfinger enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at Mass General Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Vickery’s work in the Schumann Andante deserves more generous praise than this review allowed. Sure, it wasn’t maudlin or schmaltzy, which I imagine can be a pitfall when playing the bittersweet melody. But put simply, his playing was gorgeous.

    Comment by Bob D. — August 24, 2022 at 11:06 am

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