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-- Robert Battey
Berlin Piano Quartet
The Berlin Piano Quartet is actually two ensembles. Violinist Burkhard Maiss, violist Philip Douvier and cellist Bogdan Jianu have successfully toured for a dozen years as the Jacques Thibaud String Trio. With the addition of pianist Tao Lin in 2000, the group became the Berlin Piano Quartet.
Both iterations made an appearance at Dumbarton Church on Saturday evening, starting with the trio playing Douvier's transcription of Schubert's Sonatina in D, D. 384 (originally for violin and piano). Not one of the composer's more profound utterances, it is nevertheless a tender, gracefully melodic piece that lost little in this strings-only translation -- particularly when played with the elegance and finely gauged balance between instrumental voices these musicians supplied.
Joined by Lin, the quartet played two works steeped in full-hearted 19th-century romanticism: Schumann's exuberant Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47, and, as the main course, Mendelssohn's turbulent, rhapsodic Piano Quartet in B Minor, Op. 3. In both works, the strings created a satisfying marriage between spontaneous-sounding phrasing and disciplined technical finish, their timbres unfailingly sweet and tellingly blended.
Lin's liberal pedaling and understated dynamics rendered the keyboard parts less boldly individual than in some other pianists' hands, but his playing fit hand-in-glove with the smooth finish of his string partners. All four musicians met the athletic demands of the more extroverted writing in both scores, and brought Mendelssohn's three allegro movements to exhilarating conclusions.
-- Joe Banno