Pacifica Quartet, Osorio prove eloquent collaborators in Romantic program

Mon Jan 23, 2012 at 6:40 pm

By Dennis Polkow

The Pacifica Quartet performed Sunday afternoon at Mandel Hall.

As the University of Chicago’s resident performing ensemble, the Pacifica Quartet maintains a regular presence on the University of Chicago Presents series.

If Sunday afternoon’s Mandel Hall concert looked a tad conservative on paper, at least by Pacifica standards, the end result of juxtaposing two stalwarts of Romanticism — Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1 and Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 — actually worked surprisingly well.

Beethoven’s three Razumovsky Quartets revolutionized the genre, so much so, that neither the works’ first performers nor audiences know quite what to make of them.

This was particularly true of the first quartet of the three — Op. 59, No. 1 in F Major — which was not only the first of the group prepared and performed, but also the most massive.

A masterpiece of demonstrating the art of how much can be done with so little, the motif of the work is a single note in rhythmic pulse that is introduced in the second movement by the cello showcasing Beethoven at his most mischievous, the spirit that dominated the Pacifica performance.

By the third movement, the cello takes a more serious role as the motif transformation becomes more radical and expansive until giving way to a finale that manages to work in a Russian folk tune in honor of the count that commissioned the set with that kind of bizarre assimilation that only Beethoven seems to be able to pull off.

This was a performance of remarkable scope and intensity with an eye on the overall structure of the piece from its introductory movement that served as an overture of the drama and humor to follow to its confident and rousing finale.

Despite having been composed some eighty years later, Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 is as complacent in its Romanticism as Beethoven was as revolutionary in helping to establish it by breaking free of the forms of Classicism.

By the time of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet, the expansionism that seemed so radical in Beethoven had given way to a free-form view of structure that perfectly suited Dvořák’s lingering melodies. Indeed, the motifs in the Dvořák work are longer and more melodic which means that Dvořák need not be so innovative with them.

The wholesale myth that Dvořák’s music is principally derived from genuine Czech folk material may have initially helped promote his works in his day, but it has also served to minimize Dvořák’s own extraordinary gift as an imaginative melodic composer in his own right.

In actuality, while the Quintet does paraphrase many features and forms associated with Czech music — the second movement is even called Dumka — remarkably, every one of these themes is Dvořák’s own, yet still evocative enough as to sound familiar within a single hearing.

Jorge Federico Osorio

Jorge Federico Osorio has long made Highland Park his home, but seemingly had to prove himself the world over before being given his due as a concertizer of choice here. The Mexican-born pianist made the ideal collaborator for the Pacifica and together they made a compelling case for music that can be wallowed in by performers.

Here, however, all forces involved were careful to pace themselves so that Dvořák’s grand melodic moments made their greatest impact with nuanced fluctuations of dynamics and balances.

Some of the quiter moments were almost elegiac and yet Dvořák’s playfulness, clearly an inspiration from Beethoven, was also revealed in sharp relief.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment