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The Ying Quartet gave an exhilarating concert Saturday at Skidmore College's Zankel Music Center as part of the college's sixth annual string festival.
Although only three pieces on the program were played, the Ying showed a synchronicity and depth of interpretation that were exceptional.
Until recently, the Ying was a quartet of siblings but now is a trio: violinist Janet, violist Phillip and cellist David with violinist Frank Huang, who replaced Timothy.
Although not a Ying, Huang fit the group as tightly as a glove.
The group's tone is very refined and crystalline. Attacks are feathery, dynamic levels are wide and tightly controlled. Everyone's technique is fluid, even and effortless. Most of all, their phrasing had wonderfully subtle nuances bolstered by a focused and always intense drive.
They put all these attributes to good use, adding other talents along the way as required.
Haydn's Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 4 (1781) sparkled with great charm, pacing, and quicksilver tempos. Huang was especially brilliant in the many first violin solos.
The finale was especially delightful with a light quick tempo that sounded like a bubbling brook. It ended with one of Haydn's inspirations: plucking out the pretty melody.
Leos Janacek's Quartet No. 2 ("Intimate Letters") of the 1920s was a complete contrast.
Huang told the crowd that the music reflected much of the torment and passionate anguish found in the 700 love letters Janacek wrote to the young married Kamila Strosslova.
Presumably, his passion was unrequited, which would explain some of the hyperbolic level of expression found in the work: one moment it was a divinely beautiful melody soaring in a solo violin; the next it was the quartet in a loud tempestuous group tremolo.
This schizophrenic level of emotion and technical demands might leave a lesser quartet in the shade. The Ying jumped in, found meaning in the surprising elements, and produced an intelligent diatribe that was sympathetic and compelling.
The concert closed with an emotional and dramatically bold reading of Mendelssohn’s final chamber music work, Quartet in F minor, Op. 80 (1847), written three months before his death.