Spokane String Quartet Tuesday, May 13, The Met
Steven Staryk sure can play the violin. What else can I say? Anyone at The Met Tuesday night would bear me out.
Guest artist on the final Spokane String Quartet concert of the season, Staryk, in fact, performed solos the entire first half with the accompaniment of pianist Kendall Feeney. The program varied from late-Baroque to the 20th century including Sonatas by Jean-Marie Leclair and Prokofiev, and a movement by Brahms.
Leclair’s simple, clear style allowed the violinist a chance to stake his musical territory. Staryk was confident and solid on every note he played. The huge sound and killer technique got him what he needed from the violin to take the music off the paper and put it out into the air.
The quaint dances left over from times past offered a study in contrasts. The third movement of “Sarabanda” required and received a sotto voce sound, and every note was weighted with purpose. Mr. Big Sound was back for the “Tambourin” finale. Huge scales and gutsy intensity brought out the inextinguishable peasant spirit.
Brahm’s Sonata movement was next. Brahms is Brahms is Brahms, even on an early piece. Although there is some detectable Schumann influence, the piece is unmistakably Brahms. His music is like a sausage - no matter where you slice it, it still has the same flavor.
Staryk found the appropriate Brahms sound with more vibrato and a fat Romantic tone. Unlike many soloists who sound like themselves no matter what composer they are propped up to play, Staryk showed a lot of latitude in styles. Like having the right tool for the job, the violinist selected the suitable elements from all those available to him to enhance the music.
Prokofiev brought on snapping crisp articulations, big soaring melodies and Staryk’s continued absolute control from delicate to gutsy. The second movement “Scherzo” evoked pictures of a cat-and-dog chase scene both in tempo and temperament. The Allegro con brio was not quite literal, but Staryk took the “with fire” instruction as seriously as possible without flaming a 200-year-old fiddle.
Mozart’s K. 516 Quintet comprised the second half of the concert. Staryk took the lead violin book and the Spokane String Quartet filled in the rest, with Farris switching to viola. For the most part, the ensemble was very tight, but I couldn’t get away from the feeling that it was less of a collaboration than the SSQ following Staryk very closely.
The performance was thoroughly enjoyable with Mozart at his incredible best and great playing all around. The “Adagio” third movement was especially worth hearing live. The mutes on all the instruments darkened things up beautifully, but the group still did not back off 100 percent sound and expression.
The last movement of the Mozart was a wild ride, with the fast runs ripping from violin to cello. The thick, rich scoring of the Quintet beefs up a quartet considerably, but I think having Staryk on board also helped bring out some new sounds from the String Quartet.