Attacca Quartet opens Chiarina residency with exhilarating performances 

Sun Oct 02, 2022 at 1:13 pm
By Andrew Lindemann Malone

The Attacca Quartet performed in the Chiarina Chamber Players series Saturday night. Photo: David Goddard

The Chiarina Chamber Players brought the Attacca Quartet to town for a weeklong residency culminating in two concerts at St. Mark’s Church. Saturday’s concert made a great case for attending Sunday’s event, with exciting performances of both contemporary works and repertoire cornerstones.

Before intermission, the group bookended Beethoven’s “Harp” String Quartet with two short works by Caroline Shaw. Blueprint made a serendipitous intro, considering that it riffs on various elements of Beethoven’s Op. 18, no. 6 quartet. 

Starting by pulling and smushing the opening harmonies around like taffy, Shaw then moves into and out of a more modern minimalist aesthetic, with Beethoven popping up to redirect. The Attacca had great fun with it, creating a keen sense of dialogue and pulling out the moments of pathos—at times the music seems a bit lonely when it gets too far from its nineteenth-century conversational partner—and also nailing the joke pizzicato at the end.

Shaw’s Valencia depicts not the Spanish city, but the orange variety named after it, starting with glassy high harmonies that gradually transform into repeated rhythmic cells. Monotony is avoided as the textures develop more variety—the Attacca sounded particularly good pulling long notes and snapping them off into plucked strings, like a fruit clinging to the branch before it yields to the picker.

Valencia might have made a bigger impression had it not immediately followed the Attacca’s thrilling rendition of the “Harp” Quartet in E major, Op. 74. 

It is rare to find this often-played work sounding so vivid. In the development section and coda of the first movement, the Attacca played lightning fast yet with so much ensemble clarity one could hear every harmonic shift—listening felt like trying to run a race during an earthquake, but less dangerous.

First among equals in moving the earth on Saturday was cellist Andrew Yee, whose precise, intense playing made every note riveting—whether hushed and slow in the Adagio ma non troppo or starting the coruscating rush of the trio section of the Presto scherzo. The variations in the finale can sometimes feel like a letdown after the sheer energy of that Presto, but the Attacca built the drama back up bit by bit to an exhilarating conclusion.

After intermission, pianist Efi Hackmey, one of the co-founders and co-artistic directors of the Chiarina Chamber Players, joined the quartet to play Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet. 

Shostakovich’s Quintet boasts some profound music, but its suite-like structure and propensity to leave some instruments silent for extended periods can make it feel more like a collection of high points than a unified whole.

Saturday’s performance did not quite solve this problem entirely, but the high points were high indeed: a grave but never ponderous fugue unspooling gradually in the strings and then  piano, a typically sarcastic Scherzo with maximum emphasis, and a surprisingly tender finale, featuring poised phrasing from Hackmey and attentive, vibrant playing from the quartet.

Sunday’s Attacca Quartet concert, presented by the Chiarina Chamber Players, features Shaw’s Valencia, Schubert String Quintet, and Ravel’s String Quartet, 7:30 p.m. at St. Mark’s.

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