Rolston String Quartet performed an equally beautiful recital to a smallish but characteristically enthusiastic crowd of die-hard music lovers. Undaunted by the 8-10 inches of snow that had blanketed the entire region less than two days before, the quartet appeared on stage, exactly at the chosen hour, youthful and shiny (especially the patent-leather shoes of the three gentlemen!).On a beautiful late-winter day in Blacksburg, Virginia, the
Originally formed from a group of friends at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, the Rolston Quartet rose quickly to fame by claiming First Prize at the 12th Banff International Competition in 2016, in addition to prizes at M-Prize (University of Michigan) and Bordeaux 2016. These achievements have resulted in many recital appearances worldwide. They are now quartet-in-residence at Yale.
The recital opened with the lovely “Bird” Quartet (Haydn Op. 39 No. 3, C major), which is full of trills and other chirping ornaments, mostly in the first violin. Close communication and careful balance among the players is essential to successful Haydn, which is why I personally find that Haydn is must better performed by quartets such as the Rolston (and the St. Lawrence and others) who have rehearsed and toured together for some time. Haydn did not write much for the inside voices, so it is up to the musicians to find and deliver that inner beauty to the main themes. Second violinist Jeffrey Dyrda and violist Hezekiah Leung did their work to bring out all of the hidden richness and humor of great Haydn. I was grateful that I could hear the violist and watch his hands because the quartet used the traditional seating arrangement with the cellist on the outside, which I strongly prefer.
The first half closed with the Debussy String Quartet (G minor). This piece always reduces me to tears at least a few times. The quartet demonstrated the tremendous range of sounds and feelings that are only possible through true individual virtuosity. Here cellist Jonathan Lo’s velvety tone set the standard for the other players, who built on his lines as I believe Debussy intended. But if I had to choose one aspect of the entire afternoon’s performance, an aspect that had me at a loss for words, it was first violinist Luri Lee’s performance in the Debussy. Lee can go from the most intimate whisper to a volcanic fortissimo within a single short phrase, and with absolute command. She is a tiny person, but her whole physical stance opens, and she draws out all the latent capabilities of her exquisite Carlo Tononi violin. Throughout all three pieces, her manipulation of tonal color (mostly with her bow, it seemed to me, but also with supple vibrato) was as confident as I’ve ever heard.
After an intermission the recital closed with a fine reading of Tchaikovsky (Op. 11, No. 1, D major). I need to study the score of that one because I thought I heard one of the themes from the great Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto embedded in the last movement of this quartet. This piece featured all of the musicians in equal balance and highlighted their special synergy and unified musicality.
Afterward there was a reception and I was able to meet the musicians and talk to them a little about their instruments and their future plans. And I had my share of Cheez Whiz sandwiches (officially known as "pimiento cheese spread"). That's the small-town touch!
The concert was presented at the Blacksburg Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Sunday March 25, 2018, as the final performance of the 2017-2018 season of Musica Viva of Southwestern Virginia.Tweet
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