Enthusiasm is catching, and when you mix it with real talent, you have a combination that sets spirits thrumming. Violinists Domenic Salerni and Jessica Shuang, violist Yinzi Kong and cellist Guang Want are the members of the exceptional Vega String Quartet, and when they appeared on the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota program recently at the Historic Asolo, it was as if we were attending a performance by the early incarnations of the Guarneri, Juilliard or Tokyo string quartets.
First, the program: Opening with Beethoven and closing with Mendelssohn never hurts. When you add a new, fun and inventive work as the filling, you have a winner.
Breaking down the formerly impenetrable wall between chamber musicians and audience members in a concert hall helps remind us about the raison d’etre for chamber music: intimacy. And the Vega does it beautifully with personable, charming and short introductions to each piece of music that draw listeners into the music like honeybees to clover.
The fact that their playing was exquisite didn’t hurt matters, either. Their performance of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, an exceptionally chromatic work known as “Serioso,” was exceedingly well-planned, with great attention to color and a translucency of sound that’s hard to find in ensembles that have worked together for years. Yes, there were momentary slips in pitch here and there, but the over-all cohesiveness of the playing trumped those few inconsistencies.
David Garner’s novel “I ain’t broke, but I am badly bent,” consisting of 13 fiddle tunes, was, as violist Yinzi Kong described in her introduction, “organized chaos.” It was also clever, minimalistic and, at times, downright fun. Leaping from genre to genre — jazz (a 21st-century take on Brubeck’s “Unsquare Square Dance”), Irish folk songs, Ivesian musical humor, romanticism and a little cacophony here and there — Garner put the quartet through some difficult paces but it came out on top, with grins.
But as clever and innovative as we thought Garner was, juxtaposed with Mendelssohn’s brilliant and beautiful String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, “I ain’t broke … ” was more novelty than novel, and although Garner has a great gift, Mendelssohn’s eclipsed it by a solar system. The Vega played the poo out of the Scherzo’s devilishly difficult passages, sounding fleet and light, while prolonging the drama of the work. The long, legato lines of the andante showed off this young ensemble’s ability to switch gears and delve, beautifully, into music.
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