In Sunday’s penultimate performance in the estimable chamber Maverick music series, the Ames Piano Quartet took the stage for a concert of familiar masterworks that we don’t hear often enough, and a newer example by hometown hero George Tsontakis, who has for many years lived in Woodstock.
The concert opened with Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47. From the brief but solemn introduction of the first movement, through to the finale, whose melodic outlines seem drawn from the invocatory chords that get the piece going at the beginning, the Ames were solidly in charge. Their flawless ensemble playing was infused with a sort of Midwestern solidity—virtuosic, but not at all flashy. In particular, Mei-Hsuan Huang, the pianist, conveyed an irresistible energy. There were, as well, plenty of lovely solo passages for the viola, which Samantha Rodriguez adopted as her own.
George Tsontakis’s Piano Quartet No. 4 was commissioned by the Ames Quartet in 2019. This is music that’s clearly close to their hearts, and they executed it with captivating warmth and style. The winsome opening of the piece recalled, as if of a distant and long-lost cousin, the delicate allure of the Schumann’s lovely third-movement Andante Cantabile. The lacey texture of the middle section gave way, toward the end, to an ardent exploration of the uses of the repeated note. The piece ended with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a kind of bowing out, a gentle departure. Again, pianist Mei-Hsuan Huang inhabited a role wherein she was clearly comfortable.
Brahms’s Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor opens with an understated presentation of the main theme by the piano. Throughout the piece, Mei-Hsuan was, again, thrillingly indefatigable. The Brahms gave her not a moment’s peace, from that quiet beginning all the way to the thrilling finale of the gypsy rondo that closed the work and the concert. Brahms gave a lot of attention to the lower registers of the strings in this work, and the Ames Piano Quartet claimed that territory as their own, gracious and welcoming. The performers again displayed the infallibility of their ensemble playing in the extended pizzicato passages.
The Maverick was full on Sunday, the audience’s tireless enthusiasm filling the rustic hall’s tranquil and solemn precincts with fervor and enthusiastic joy. Such has been the mood all summer in Woodstock’s dim and dappled woodland. The season is winding down. The days are getting shorter, you know it and I know it. Next weekend we’ll hear the last of the year’s concerts. We will miss it all very much!
Mary Fairchild lives in Rosendale, New York, after a long career as a host at WQXR, WNYC, WMHT (Schenectady), and WPLN (Nashville). She has for some 20 years been writing program notes for Vladimir Feltsman’s PianoSummer at New Paltz. Before being called by Kalliope, the Muse of Eloquence and of Writing About Music, she worked as a financial editor and manager of investor relations in Wall Street.