Thursday, April 13, 2000

Tokyo String Quartet, Tocco entertaining

BY Tom Schneller
Enquirer contributor

        The Tokyo String Quartet and pianist James Tocco presented an evening of chamber music Tuesday that explored the heights and depths of the human soul. Selections ranged chronologically from the late 18th to the late 20th century.

        The first work on the program, performed in Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati, was Joseph Haydn's String Quartet in G, Op. 77 No. 1. It was performed with buoyancy and elegance by the Tokyo Quartet.

        The blend of grace and humor that endows many of Haydn's works with an irresistible charm was reflected in the quartet's effervescent interpretation. The presto finale in particular threw sparks, and was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

        Mr. Tocco joined the Tokyo Quartet for a performance of the Piano Quintet by Alfred Schnittke, the most prominent Russian composer of the late 20th century.

        Like much of Schnittke's music, the quintet is a gateway into a macabre netherworld of suffering and existential despair. Its fractured musical rhetoric juxtaposes blatantly tonal fragments with extreme dissonance, a mixture that is disorienting and deeply disturbing.

        The music teeters on the brink of hysteria and demands an interpretation of extreme, shocking intensity, even in the most quiet passages. The playing of Mr. Tocco and the Tokyo String Quartet was carefully chiselled and very polished, but seemed quite remote. In music of this nature, a more drastic approach might have been more suitable.

        The last piece on the program catapulted the listener from the psychological wasteland of Schnittke to a more hospitable sound-world. Robert Schumann's String Quartet in A major, Op. 41 No. 3, brims with the glorious lyricism that characterizes so much of Schumann's music.

        The Tokyo Quartet savored exquisite passages and gave a warm, affectionate account of the work. The adagio in particular, with its bittersweet mixture of ecstasy and urgent premonitions of imminent loss, was riveting.

        The strutting, intermittently rustic rondo that concludes the work provided a vivacious finale.


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