American pianist Jonathan Biss gets more relaxed, more interesting and more musical every time he appears in Kansas City. Friday night at the Folly Theater was no exception.
By John Heuertz, Kansas City Star
Biss appeared in a Friends of Chamber Music concert with the Elias Quartet, a splendid English group of four string voices speaking with one mind, as part of Biss’ 2013 Schumann Project in five cities, three countries and two continents.
Even though there are only two of them, Mozart’s piano quartets defined the genre. These quartets are far beyond Mozart’s instrument quartets written in Paris in the late 1770s.
The sweet, sunny 1786 quartet in E-flat opened Friday’s program, and Biss and the quartet had fun playing it. It featured beautifully executed piano-violin dialogue and startling harmonies, the latter thanks to the Elias’ squeaky-clean inner voicing.
At age 74, Leos Janacek in 1927 was old and emotionally vulnerable, but with the heart of a young lion. Ten years earlier, Janacek had fallen headlong in love with Kamila Stösslova, a married 28-year-old. (He was 64.) His “Intimate Letters” string quartet is a record of his ardent love for her.
It’s one of the finest of all 20th-century quartets. And the Elias Quartet’s performance of this long, intensely beautiful, intensely difficult work was a tour de force of striking technical brilliance that illuminated Janacek’s raw emotion.
If a Janacek performance has a capital vice, it is melodrama. There was none Friday night. Elias’ refined playing gave a strong, clear voice to the real drama suffusing this great music.
“Intimate Letters” is almost music for viola with strings. So is American composer Timothy Andres’ Piano Quintet, which received its world premiere Friday night.
Andres’ accessible music occasioned Friday’s only possible performance quibble: The piano sometimes overpowered Andres’ delicate string writing, especially in the piano’s lowest register.
Timothy Andres seems to look backward to Bela Bartok, among others, as Robert Schumann’s E-flat Piano Quartet (1842) looks backwards to Beethoven (and forward to Sibelius and Brahms).
It’s chock-full of luscious counterpoint and Romantic cello writing, and was played with the greatest of ease.