The Parker String Quartet (Daniel Chong and Karen Kim on violins, Jessica Bodner on viola, and Kee-Hyun Kim on cello) has returned to the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival for a second summer, scheduled to perform in three of this year’s five programs. Their first appearance for 2010 was at Waynesville in a program that will be repeated in Swannanoa on June 29. They began the program with Samuel Barber’s youthful Serenade for String Quartet, Opus 1 (1929), a work that shows a young composer conflicted between modern idioms and a love of lyrical neoclassicism. The counterpoint of the final movement was a highlight.
Madeleine Dring’s Trio for flute, oboe and piano is also a short three-movement work by a multi-talented British woman who had studied composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams. George Pope on flute and Cynthia Watson on oboe gave a disappointing performance. Both wind players were consistently loud throughout the first two movements, losing subtleties that Inessa Zaretsky’s shaped dynamics demonstrated when the same motifs were in her piano part. The third movement was more satisfying, a flippant mood being well conveyed in a flute riff and a passage in which the piano drops out and the wind players perform a sort of cadenza.
George Pope on flute joined Kee-Hyun Kim on cello for yet another short three-movement work, Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Jet Whistle for flute and cello. The finale has interesting passages where the flute warbles above a cello ostinato, and contained the “jet whistle” of the title: a gimmick where the flautist blows directly into the mouthpiece and performs a glissando.
The world premiere performance of Inessa Zaretsky’s Sea Interludes for oboe, horn and piano preceded intermission. Bill Hoyt on French horn joined Ms. Watson and Ms. Zaretsky. The work is in two movements, with the second incorporating the recorded sound of killer whales delivering their complex song. The first movement reminded this listener of Zdenko Fibich, a composer whom I find dense and difficult. I would have to study this movement in more detail before reaching conclusions, but first hearing was not encouraging. In contrast, the second movement is a definite keeper. The composer demonstrates a wonderful ability to match the tones of the oboe and horn to characteristics of the whale song. I would like to see that second movement supplemented by a movement with a vocal line, solo or chorus, as Vaughan Williams did in his Sea Symphony.
The second half of the program consisted of Robert Schumann’s String Quartet No. 2 in F, Opus 41/2. The Parker String Quartet lived up to their growing fame. They received the 2009-2011 Cleveland Quartet Award and are Quartet-in-Residence with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, so it is a tribute to the collegial atmosphere of the Swannanoa Festival that were moved to return. Playing the Schumann without music or stands, the collaboration of the four string players reminded me of the Cleveland Quartet in its first years. Bravo.
The Parker String Quartet will perform Beethoven’s Opus 131 quartet at an all-Beethoven concert that will conclude the season. I am looking forward to comparing them with memories of the Cleveland Quartet playing the complete Beethoven cycle in Rochester. You might want to plan now to attend this concert (July 17 in Charlotte, July 18 in Waynesville or July 20 in Swannanoa). The Parker String Quartet is that good.