Phillips Camerata: Showcasing Shostakovich and Schumann quintets

May 28, 2012

You don’t generally think of Shostakovich and Schumann as sharing much of the same musical aesthetic, but the performances of their two piano quintets by the Phillips Camerata that concluded the Phillips Collection’s concert season on Sunday had the two joined at the hip.

Both were big and gutsy, the Shostakovich with its edges a little rounded off, the Schumann mostly tight and emphatic. The fugal passages of both were delineated with utmost clarity and baroque balance. The scherzos were navigated carefully, although neither escaped muddle, but, in both, opportunities for broad lyricism were seized upon with opulent generosity.

Both of these quintets have wonderful viola parts and, perhaps to share the goodies, Olivia Hajioff, the violist in the Shostakovich, and Marc Ramirez who was the Shostakovich second violinist, switched for the Schumann, although, this may not have been such a good idea. Both play with wonderfully rich sounds but, throughout, Hajioff seemed better at mirroring the phrasing of the other instruments around her and, after the switch, the handoff from cello (David Teie) to Ramirez’s viola, such a central event throughout the Schumann, just wasn’t as convincingly a continuation as it might have been.

Pianist Edvinas Minkstimas seemed more involved with the Schumann than the Shostakovich. He moved into Schumann’s constantly shifting rhythmic patterns with the cool of an Indian tabla player and, while his Shostakovich was incisive (and might have held its own more convincingly had the piano lid been fully opened), he didn’t always seem to lead where he needed to. As the first violinist, Miranda Cuckson tailored her playing splendidly for each piece — icy-toned for the Shostakovich, more warmth for the Schumann and a long, drawn-out, vibratoless descending scale in the Shostakovich finale that floated quietly and mesmerizingly over the ensemble.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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