The Western Piedmont Symphony presented the second concert of its Chamber Classics series at the Arts and Science Center of Catawba Valley in Hickory, NC, featuring the Kailas Quartet – Jory Fankuchen and Stephanie Fong, violins, John T. Pasadas, viola, and Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron, cello. This group is currently the quartet-in-residence at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where they perform and teach. Each of the players has won numerous awards in chamber music competitions.

The program opened with String Quartet in D, Opus 76, No. 5, by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). The Opus 76 quartets, dedicated to the Hungarian Count Joseph Erdödy, were among Haydn’s last and mark the culmination in the development of his chamber music style, fusing the quartet style with powerful thematic invention, especially in the slower movements. The quartet is written in the basic four-movement sonata form. The first movement is a series of variations on a siciliano (peasant dances of Sicily) theme. This is followed by a deeply felt and intense slow movement, which has become quite famous. Then follows a fast Minuet, followed by a high-spirited Presto Finale. The quartet calls for many moods and colors, and the members of the Kailas Quartet played with clarity and feeling throughout. In the fourth movement they were passing themes back and forth like a basketball.

Hungarian Bela Bartók (1881-1945) composed his Third Quartet in Budapest in 1927 and later that year submitted it to an international chamber music competition sponsored by the Music Fund Society of Philadelphia where it shared the first prize. Bartók’s quartets parallel his stylistic evolution, and the third, more than his first two, reflect his distinct personal style.

Bartók described his musical credo as containing elements of peasant music, old music, and primitive church tones, along with the unconventional and liberal use of rhythm, and in the Third Quartet he realized these intentions completely. It is a single movement, divided into four sections. The subdued and introspective first movement moves into a distinctly contrasted second part containing folk dance elements with a propulsive rhythmic drive. The third section recapitulates the first movement, at least in spirit, and the final coda is again propelled by percussive rhythms from the second section.

While Bartók’s music may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I understand there was some concern about programming it among members of the quartet, their performance made the music alive and exciting, and audience reception was quite favorable. Their playing demonstrated broad variations of tone, color, and texture and great facility in the multiple mood and rhythm changes.

The program concluded with the String Quartet in F by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). His only string quartet was written while he was still a student and was dedicated to his teacher, Gabriel Fauré. Ravel’s music, like that of his contemporary, Claude Debussy, was described as impressionistic, a term that both disliked. Their music, however, does not follow traditional classical structure, as they found these forms to be too confining. This quartet, in particular, has the abundant tone colors, vibrant rhythms, and sensual melodies that are Ravel’s distinctive trademark, and, again, the Kailas Quartet did not fail to bring out all of those qualities.

Throughout the entire concert, the members of the Kailas Quartet played as if they were painting pictures, applying colors, changing tones and textures, blending and balancing, pulling and contrasting, all as the music dictated. And, in response to their hard work, the audience provided them with a well-deserved standing ovation.