On a warm summer evening, it's best not to demand too much of your audience.
The National Philharmonic String Quartet hit all the right notes programmatically Thursday with a pleasing collection of music by Schubert, Wolf, Mozart and Paul Creston.
In the cool auditorium of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville, the ensemble began with a relaxed and somewhat cautious rendition of Franz Schubert's single-movement "Quartettsatz." The four played well as an ensemble, belying the fact that they don't perform together regularly.
The group rose to the challenge of Creston's Quartet, Op. 8, written in the middle of the last century. Creston, a West Coast composer, has a compositional style that brings to mind an open landscape; tonal, wide and easy to grasp. Listening to the NPSQ's handling of the whimsical figures in the first movement and intricate pizzicatos in the second made one wish that Creston had written more than one string quartet. The folksy movement titled "in the style of Gregorian chant" utilized a call-and-response structure, with Lori Barnet's strong cello leading the way.
The late romantic composer Hugo Wolf created a landscape himself with his Italian Serenade. First violinist Claudia Chudacoff carried the melody beautifully, and the distraction of an errant bat flying across the stage seemed to make the musicians all the more determined to lilt their phrases.
Mozart's Prussian Quartet No. 1 was light and sweet. The NPSQ succeeded in creating a living room intimacy, though some of the sections would have benefited from greater animation.
The Summer Chamber Music Festival concludes tonight with the National Philharmonic Piano Trio.
-- Gail Wein