Captivating performance by Dali Quartet and Olga Kern

The Virginia Arts Festival’s popular coffee concert series held May 16 in the Williamsburg Winery closed with the Dali Quartet and pianist Olga Kern, the Festival’s newly named chamber music series director, also considered an international super star (and glamorous one at that).

The Dali, currently based in Philadelphia, has achieved wide acclaim for its dedication to music having Latin American or Latino spirit, in large part due to the fact that its founders are from Venezuela (violinist Carlos Rubio and violist Adriana Linares), augmented by Puerto Rico‘s Jesus Morales (cello) and Domenic Salerni (violin). Easily versatile and acclaimed in the classical literature as well, the Dali is noted for its exuberant, high spirited deliveries, sensitivities and audience appeal.

The Dali was a natural for this series, especially since Kern toured with the group a few months ago. The Festival fare was a one from column A and one from column B affair that reflected Latino and Classical styles: Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 20 and Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat Major, Op. 44.

The Ginastera, which opened the program, was in noted contrast to the Schumann, which closed it. The String Quartet No. 1 makes apparent use of Argentinian folk music, only with abstract applications. It reflects Ginastera’s interest in the gaucho lifestyle and associated male dance form, malambo which showcases a male’s dance powerful skills. As such, three of the work’s four movements are dance oriented and are highly rhythmic, propulsive, energetic, frenetic, utilizing folk genre lines with more experimental sounds.

Although occasionally astringent, the rhythmic construction is very intense and draws the listener in on the excitement. The outlier was the third movement which is supposed to be “calm and poetic.” That may have been Ginastera’s intent or interpretation of gaucho reflection of calm under the night skies but on hearing it there seemed to be more angst or melancholy at play than peace, despite its more lyrical and detectable song like quality.

What the Ginastera showcased was its remarkable technical abilities. The work is difficult and challenges its players in major ways. The quartet handled the gymnastics of the piece and delivered a high grade, absolutely stimulating rendering of it.

As for the Schumann, it was everything anticipated. As noted by WHRO’s Ray Jones in pre-concert comments, it is one of the most popular quintets in the repertoire, followed by the exquisitely dressed-in- stunning-red gown Kern’s indication that it was one of her most favorite pieces. Schumann’s concept was revolutionary and gave birth to the modern day piano quintet.

Prior to this composition, the piano quintet substituted one violin for a double bass. So this was a big deal in its time and now, as performed here, it was a big deal in listening thrills, perfectly defining superb, musically informed playing by the Dali and Kern. The E flat Major is highly melodic, offers sweeping, even passionate lines, and serious degrees of emotion. It oozes Romanticism, much of it enhanced by the Dali’s warm, inviting and beautifully balanced sound.

Also known for its wicked piano demands, it was a grand piece to showcase Kern’s mighty mastery of the keyboard. The Dali and Kern team offered a stellar, captivating performance that allowed the Schumann to take on more of a symphonic feel than an ordinary piano quintet. They offered a big sound and big rewards in coordinated, extremely artistic, and panoramic sounds that brought the crowd to its feet in spontaneous applause. The applause was rewarded by an arrangement of Rubinstein’s “Romance in the Night,” which was gentle, embracing and, simply, lovely.

John Shulson, The Virginia Gazette
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