The silken tones of the St. Petersburg String Quartet entertained a large crowd Saturday night at Emma Willard’s Kiggins Hall as part of the 63rd annual Friends of Chamber Music series. It was the quartet’s third appearance on the series.
Violinists Alla Aranovskaya and Evgeny Zvonnikov, violist Boris Vayner and cellist Leonid Shukayev play with a lovely mellow, refined sound that flowed seamlessly from one phrase to another. Much of that unity of approach and quality of tone came from having played together for a while. They have big ears for each other’s playing. The quartet is very much a team — everything was balanced and finished.
They began with Georgian composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze’s “Five Miniatures on Jewish Folk Themes.” These short, sweet pieces were filled with ethnic color using typically Jewish or Eastern European scales that lent a sad, melancholy flavor. The quartet was unforced in its playing and allowed each of the songs to speak for themselves. Most were a bit sad or sweet but the second, “L’Chaim,” was schmaltzy in a Bartok kind of way.
Vayner spent a year arranging Bach’s masterpiece, the Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin for the quartet. The movement is like a journey through many tempos and moods. Vayner did well distributing the interweaving lines. The quartet played with an intense, focused attention that made the work compelling.
In Beethoven’s Quartet No. 11 in F minor, the sudden outbursts of frenzied playing that punctuated the otherwise serene lyricism seemed to reflect Napoleon’s bombing of Vienna — Beethoven was one of the few notables who didn’t flee the city. The four movements were on the short side but were exploratory with silences, subtle dynamics, rollicking tempos and tonal shifts. The quartet made the most of them all.
Tchaikovsky’s Quartet No. 2 in F Major had his signature harmonies, full-blown romantic lyricism and high drama throughout the four movements. But the work has a greater intricacy and complexity than many of his symphonies. Some sections were orchestrally conceived and others were transparent with the first violinist playing the lion’s share of the melodies.
The level of development of the material and the strong differences in moods among the movements made the almost hourlong piece fascinating listening.
The quartet played with great gusto, superb pacing, effortless technique and immaculate control of the work’s subtleties. Although all the movements were done exceptionally well, the slow third movement was especially eloquent with its mix of romance and pathos.
After a standing ovation, the quartet played Tsintsadze’s “Indi-Mindi,” a speedy, lyrical and frothy tune that was much fun.