Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Fantastic Fource

A Fantastic Fource

By Tom Wachunas

At least two significant developments have transpired for the Linden String Quartet since being last season’s quartet in residence at the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO). First, the ensemble (violinists Sarah McElravy and Catherine Cosbey, violist Eric Wong, and cellist Felix Umansky) - all former CSO members - is now the graduate quartet in residence at Yale University under the Tokyo String Quartet. In introducing the Linden String Quartet at this season’s first installment of the Aultman Primetime Series of midday chamber music concerts at Cable Hall on September 23, CSO President and CEO Stephen Wogaman noted that the move would be a loss for Canton audiences, but certainly an important and well-deserved appointment for the quartet.

The second development is of a more ephemeral nature, but every bit as important to any quartet, and something that evades easy defining. Call it an evolution of aural presence. This is not to say that such was in any way a weakness in their performances of the last season. Their sound was and is eminently rich. But this concert showcased an even broader palette of emotional color, along with a ramped-up unity and precision of blended tonalities that transcends mere technical command of the material – something at which they’re already proven masters.

In both program selections – String Quartet No.2 by William Walton, and Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 (“American”)- the quartet performed with a fluid energy and confidence, elucidating the material as if had been written just for them. Additionally, both selections were delightful vehicles for the quartet’s tight, nuanced intonations and spot-on phrasing.

In his introductory comments about the Walton piece (written 1945-47), violist Eric Wong observed that the work (unlike the popular “American” by Dvorak) is not commonly heard in live concert settings. After hearing it here, it’s difficult to imagine why. While critics in Walton’s day bemoaned the work’s lack of any notable innovations, it is nonetheless imbued with an interestingly compact structure as well as genuine emotionality, which the quartet communicated with hypnotic authority. And particularly in the second and fourth movements, the quartet delivered Walton’s rhythmic vitality – intricate, fast, and frolicsome – with astonishing brio. Such passages were a piquant counterpoint to the work’s undercurrent of haunting melancholy, often gorgeously voiced by the viola.

On the other hand, the many jaunty passages in the Dvorak work are all about optimism, contentment, and bucolic serenity. Some conjure birdsong, others the pleasant rhythms of trains crossing the Iowa landscapes that drew Dvorak’s attention when he wrote the work in 1893. At no other point in the concert was the quartet more voluptuous in sound (the violin and cello work was nothing short of magnificent), or warmly deep in spirit, than in the second (Lento) movement. It is a quieting, mournful song of longing, and certainly among the most memorable slow movements ever composed. Performing it effectively requires a reverential sensibility and mature artistry, both of which were in abundance here. Bravo, bravo.

If, in their future endeavors, the youthful Linden String Quartet sustains this kind of aural magic and technical virtuosity, seamlessly melded with real passion, I can’t see how it will be all that long a wait before the classical music world at large will hear what we in Canton have been celebrating all along.

Photo courtesy Linden String Quartet home page at

Canton Symphony Orchestra presents Aultman Primetime Series (Thursdays at 1p.m.), and PNC Casual Friday Series (Fridays at 7p.m.) of informal chamber music concerts at Cable Recital Hall, located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton. For schedule and ticket information, visit or phone (330) 452-2094, Mon. – Fri. 10a.m. to 2p.m.

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