The real beauty of the Guest Artist Series at the University of Tennessee School of Music is that impressive musical experiences are likely to show up at any time. Another beautiful thing? They are all free, but easily worth the price of a ticket. The appearance by the Los Angeles Piano Quartet (Mikhail Kopelman, violin; Katherine Murdock, viola; Steven Doane, cello; and Xak Bjerken, piano) last evening proved that point.
On their program was the second performance of Christopher Stark’s Piano Quartet (the work received its world premiere on Sunday in Louisville), written for this ensemble. I found the three movement work charmingly analogous to cinematic editing in that moods appeared only to advance to another much like scenes in a film. Similarly, tempos changed, passages accelerated, passages de-accelerated, and expressionistic string effects punctuated moments of intended drama.
The second half of the program was devoted to Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25. For the first three movements I was impressed by the great balance of volume and texture; the final movement, a Rondo all Zingarese (“Rondo in the Gypsy Style”) was simply sensational. This movement is a real test of the vibrancy of an ensemble and is thrilling when an ensemble can approach recklessness while still staying aligned. This controlled abandon yielded maybe the finest playing of this movement I have ever experienced.
The quartet opened with a solidly lighthearted performance of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 3 in C Major.