Orava String Quartet plays lithely and dramatically, but doesn’t fully cohere

January 14, 2013

The four young Australians of the Orava String Quartet, which appeared Sunday at the National Gallery, are currently the graduate-quartet-in-residence under the Takacs Quartet at the University of Colorado and clearly have absorbed some Takacs’s hallmarks. They have a sense of drama. They can dance through music with the lightest of pianissimos and, even in the quickest movements, they never sound rushed.

In a program that included two big guns, the Haydn Quartet Opus 76 No. 2, and the Mendelssohn Opus 13 Quartet, and an early, richly-colored and impassioned Rachmaninoff “Romance,” they kept their bearings through big architectural structures and focused closely on niceties like the shapes of phrases in the Haydn second movement. But perhaps the evening’s most arresting moments came in the beautifully calculated and coordinated tempo changes in the Mendelssohn third movement where time and motion seemed to defy the laws of physics.

At the moment, however, this is not a very well balanced group. First violinist Daniel Kowalik dominated the ensemble all evening — not that he dug in with any undue vigor. In fact, he looked to be playing with relaxed ease. It’s just that second violinist David Dalseno and violist Thomas Chawner couldn’t seem to muster a tone that came anywhere near matching his in carrying power, and Karol Kowalik’s cello lines emerged only occasionally. This was fine some of the time. Kowalik plays with a sweet, supple delivery, and the rest of the quartet supplied comfortable harmonic accompaniment. But there were whole contrapuntal passages and inner lines in both the Haydn and the Mendelssohn where the three lower voices were sorely missed.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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