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Mother’s Day treat ends strong quartet season

The Spokane String Quartet traditionally ends its season with a Mother’s Day concert. Sunday’s season finale at Bing Crosby Theater was a lavish gift for mothers and others.

The quartet – violinists Mateusz Wolski and Misha Rosenker, violist Jeannette Yee-Wang and cellist Helen Byrne – opened the performance with Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor, “a little something Verdi tossed off in a few days waiting for delayed performance of his ‘Aida’ in Naples,” Byrne said in her introduction.

It was a treat to hear what a composer nearly exclusively associated with opera could do with chamber music. The dramatic gestures were there: a strangely ominous opening in the first movement, a wonderfully played aria-like solo for the quartet’s first violin in the second and a jovial, immensely difficult, fugue as a finale.

Anyone who has heard a fine performance of “La Traviata” with its beautiful string writing in the Preludes to Acts I and III shouldn’t have any problem imagining Verdi as a composer of chamber music. He didn’t fail us with this quartet, nor did the Spokane players fall short of Verdi’s expressiveness and severe technical demands.

Sunday’s guest performer was – unusually for a chamber music concert – a coloratura soprano.

Dawn Marie Wolski is the wife of the quartet’s first violinist and an uncommonly gifted chamber music partner. She sang Franz Schubert’s “Salve Regina” (D. 676) and his song “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (“Death and the Maiden”).

She has already demonstrated her versatility for Spokane audiences in works as varied as Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and Bernstein’s “Candide.”

But chamber music makes more subtle demands than “Glitter and Be Gay.” Wolski’s purity, pitch accuracy and diction were most impressive, but her expressive range was even more rewarding, whether in Schubert’s sacred music or the confrontation between the fearful maiden and the soothing figure of Death in his famed song.

The performance of the song was a prelude to the quartet’s performance of one of the most imposing works in the literature, Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, referred to often by the title of the song that Schubert used as the basis of the Andante variations of this quartet.

From the urgency and unanimity with which the Spokane players lit into this huge work, it was clear that this would be something quite exceptional. And it was. Whether in the headlong fury of the close of the first movement and the finale or the lyricism of the Andante, these four players were a unit with a mission.

Wolski played the high-lying filigree Schubert so loves in his variations movements. And Byrne provided creamy rich solos along with some slashing chords to punctuate the work’s dramatic moments. But far more important was the way all four players controlled the ebb and flow of this long work, with its sudden sharp contrasts of loud and soft or smooth and detached articulation. The four made the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet dramatic on a nearly symphonic scale without ever losing touch with its inner core of intimacy.

This season the Spokane String Quartet has played at a splendid level whether performing standard works by Beethoven and Dvorak, rarities such as Verdi’s lone String Quartet, or with guest performers such as Dawn Marie Wolski.

This season has shown what a high level of chamber music making Spokane enjoys.


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