David Shifrin & Quartetto di Cremona at Alice Tully Hall – Prokofiev, Weber & Schoenberg

String Quartet No.1 in B-minor, Op.50
Clarinet Quintet in B-flat, Op.34
String Quartet No.1 in D-minor, Op.7

Quartetto di Cremona [Cristiano Gualco & Paolo Andreoli (violins), Simone Gramaglia (viola) & Giovanni Scaglione (cello)]

David Shifrin (clarinet)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 1 February, 2022
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society (CMS) of Lincoln Center, the Quartetto di Cremona made its Lincoln Center debut. Violinists and viola-player performed while standing, with the cellist seated on a box that brought him up to their eye level.

The evening opened with a stunning performance of Prokofiev’s somber First String Quartet. Propelled by Cristiano Gualco’s powerful lead, the players delivered an intense and achingly melancholic account. The deep, plush sound of Simone Gramaglia’s viola and his ardent playing constantly impressed, with Giovanni Scaglione’s cello providing a solid foundation and producing soaring lines of his own, especially in the sweeping melodies of the highly affecting slow Finale. The playing was marked by admirable unanimity and blend.

In Weber’s overtly virtuosic and sparkling Clarinet Quintet, David Shifrin (also standing) delivered a performance that was as much fun as it was dazzling. He produced a warm, eloquent sound in the lyrical moments and made the more bravura passages appear completely effortless. He was superb as he emphasized dramatic elements, shaping the clarinet line with an elegant vocal quality that floated gracefully over the always radiant strings. But it was his pianissimo rendering of the ascending line at the end of the second movement Fantasia that made the performance irresistible.

After intermission came Schoenberg’s epic Quartet No.1, composed in a single 45-minute span in the hyper-expressive style of the composer’s early period and received a passionate, vivid and highly virtuosic performance, gleaming even in its most chilling passages. The intricately structured score, with echoes of medieval pageantry, courtly dances, and even folk tunes, sometimes gives the impression of meandering, as passages of bustling activity are followed by much more hesitant stretches, but this rapturous performance managed to be admirably tight, capturing the work’s assurance as well as its ambiguity.

For an encore, Shifrin returned and the players delivered a weightless and bittersweet rendition of the Larghetto from Mozart’s Quintet, K581, a gentle ending to an evening full of splendid music-making.

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