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-- Patrick Foster
National Philharmonic String Quartet
Chia Patino's string quartet "Wild Swans," which received its world premiere from the National Philharmonic String Quartet on Thursday night at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, is inspired by a short poem of that name by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The poem contrasts the speaker's "tiresome heart, forever living and dying" with a flock of swans "trailing legs and crying."
Patino's quartet interpreted the poem's images vividly, beginning with bird-call glissandi against quiet, static chords at the top of the instruments' registers, followed by a silvery melody with an undulating accompaniment that sounded like wings flapping gracefully. This was swept away by a fierce, churning counterpoint that piled up into wrenching climaxes.
Yet the bird calls persisted throughout, and a voluptuous, desperate melody emerged, played with dusky tone and tremendous poise by violist Michael Stepniak, before violinist Claudia Chudacoff hauntingly reprised the opening silvery melody and the birds finally vanished into the distance. The National Philharmonic String Quartet, for which "Wild Swans" was written, played it with passion, care, and intelligence -- powerful advocacy for an exciting new work.
Bracketing "Wild Swans" on the program were a genial but tentative performance of Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, Op. 71, No. 2, and a searingly intense performance of Bedrich Smetana's String Quartet No. 1, "From My Life," that unfortunately missed some of the quartet's gentleness and Czech flavor, particularly in the "Allegro Moderato a la Polka." But "Wild Swans" by itself was enough to make this first concert of the National Philharmonic's weekend-long chamber music festival memorable indeed.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone