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An exciting sold-out crowd filled the lobby of Fletcher Recital Hall, waiting for the doors to open for the opening concert of the twenty-fourth Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival. The doors opened ten minutes before the announced starting time and the concert finally began nine minutes after the announced time. Twenty-four years and going strong is an excellent run so far; Greenville has advanced a lot in that time. One wonders what the concerts must have been like in the opening season.
Tonight's concert was generously sponsored by ECU's Division of Academic Affairs and the College of Fine Arts and Communication. This year there are six scheduled concerts, along with a new form of performance titled Soirées, concerts in private homes, with drinks and dinner. All this is well-described in a lavish brochure as well as on the event website.
First came Gabriel Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45. The Allegro molto moderato was played with much power, although the excellent efforts of the performers were unable to instill any direction into Fauré; Fauré is just like that. The dynamics of the piano part were managed very skillfully by Aizawa. The Allegro molto had a tambourin-like quality reminiscent of the eighteenth century, and the movement was filled with lots of pizzicato. Surprisingly, the final chord was a little ragged. With perfect timing, a definitely unscheduled diversion occurred during the pause before the next movement: a cellphone began to ring and its owner answered with the phone on speaker, saying not particularly sotto voce, "I'll call you back." The caller, the only one who didn't hear what was said, responded, "Daddy? Are you there?," followed by another, "I'll call you back." The call ended, the phone's owner texted his daughter, then spent some time scrolling through his phone, apparently struggling with how to turn this newfangled gadget off. The visages of the quartet ranged from red-faced rage to pity. When the phone conversation was finally done, they continued with the Adagio non troppo, which had an amusing maritime rocking, bringing up images of rolling sea-billows. The Finale–Allegro molto was played with more fire and verve than Fauré deserved.
Second was Beethoven's Quartet in E-flat, Op. 16, here in his arrangement for piano and strings (it was originally conceived for winds and piano). This was much better fodder for the quartet than the Fauré had been, and it was delightful to hear them at their full potential. Their clarity of playing and respect for the structure of the composition was perfect. The Grave–Allegro ma non troppo was taken at a totally appropriate brisk pace. The Andante cantabile was indeed in a singing style, beginning with a delicate theme on the piano, then handily passed around. The ensemble's excellently spare and restrained style was a pleasant contrast to the lushness of Fauré. And the Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo was jolly and rollicking; all these fine players were showcased to perfection.
The evening was rounded out – or maybe rounded down – by Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, which begins, like any good silent movie music, with the part best described as "and then the train was coming." It was soon relieved by a fifth soloist, a great cockroach, who entered stage left, made its way under Gregorian's feet, thence under Rosen's chair, and on to the vicinity of Aizawa. Then it came forward almost to Mills' chair, where perturbed by all the moving feet, it made its perfectly choreographed way to exit stage right as the music ended.
A standing ovation appropriately applauded the quartet; their excellence goes almost without saying. Bravi, Bravi!