The Shanghai String Quartet, making its first appearance in Salt Lake City, thrilled its audience Sunday evening in a concert filled with profound, thoughtful and intuitive play.
These four talented musicians sounded great together. They also have a very homogeneous sound, thanks to the rich, mellow tone of their instruments, including the violins.For their concert the group chose a program mingling traditional with contemporary string quartet fare.
The most dazzling work on the concert was "Poems from Tang" by the contemporary Chinese composer Zhou Long. This work, written in 1995, was commissioned by the Shanghai Quartet and is based on four poems from the Tang dynasty.
This work abounds in special effects - glissandos, harmonics, bowing the strings near the bridge to produce a nasal effect, plucking the strings so that they rebound against the soundboard, to name but a few - that make this music exciting in the Western sense of contemporary string technique, but, in this case, with the added dimension of making these four instruments sound like ancient Chinese instruments.
It's also great to hear a new piece of music that isn't written as a rehash of late 19th century music, as so much of what's written today is, but rather seeks to expand the sonic possibilities of these four string instruments.
This is very descriptive music. Zhou quite successfully depicts the bamboo groves, the mist rising above the water, the bells and the drunken poets that these poems deal with.
Beethoven's Quartet in E minor, op. 59, No. 2, the second of the three so-called "Rasoumovsky" Quartets that he wrote in 1805, was also on the program. The Shanghai Quartet performed this work with sensitive, nuanced play that highlighted the delicate balance Beethoven established among these four instruments.
The entire work was performed brilliantly, in fact. This was Beethoven at his best.
Schubert's youthful Quartet in E flat major from 1813 opened the concert. This is delightful music that the four musicians played with a carefree attitude that made the work effective and charming.
The audience was also treated to an encore: the second movement from Ravel's Quartet in F major. This lively, vivacious movement was played with flair and feeling, and was a stunning ending to a wonderful evening of chamber music.