The Berlin Piano Quartet Andrea Buschatz, violin; Matthew Hunter, viola; Knut Weber, cello and Markus Groh, piano, presented a concert at the Lied Center on February 21, 2018. If ever there was a definition of the perfectly integrated sound of piano and strings, this was it. This quartet seems to concentrate on making a homogenous sound, where one instrument doesn’t dominate (unless required by the music) a performance. Too often, one hears chamber groups where the piano or first violin is too prominent. That is never an issue with the BPQ. The concert began with Schubert’s 1816- “Adagio e Rondo Concertante” D487. This early work of composer is firmly in the classical style and does not yet show the strong gift for melody that eventually became his hallmark. It was designed as a display piece for the piano soloist. Two movements without break comprise the work; the first is an adagio and the second a rondo. The BPQ played with gorgeous tone, and Mr. Weber’s cello was especially noticeable for its rich and warm sound. Pianist Groh was marvelous, never exploiting the spotlight provided by the composer; he also avoids histrionics while playing.
The second work was the 1891- Piano Quartet, Opus 1 in A minor by Josef Suk. While we do not hear much from this composer in the US, he was a student of Dvorak, who is, of course, very frequently heard here. The Piano Quartet is an immensely romantic work that can trace its sound back to both Dvorak and the thick, dense harmonies of Brahms. The work has three movements, beginning with an Allegro appassionato, followed by a middle slow movement, and ending with an Allegro con fuoco finale. THE BPQ managed to wring every bit of drama out of the music so that its intensity was magnified by their combined power.
Composer Danny Elfman was present at the Lied Center for the world premiere of his Piano Quartet, which was commissioned by the Center and the BPQ. Elfman is particularly known for his film music, and also for his two-decade-long affiliation as lead singer/songwriter for the band Oingo Boingo. He has won some 35 awards for his music, especially for films. The Piano Quartet has five sections. The first, “Ein Ding,” requires some really rapid fingering in the strings, and in its mid-section, it was apparent that Mr. Elfman has been influenced by composer Philip Glass. The second movement, “Kindersport,” has many references to songs familiar to children on a playground. It was full of energy and spirit. The third movement, also with references to Glass, is titled “Duett fur Vier.” The fourth and fifth sections (“Ruhig” and “Die Wolfsjungen”) continue to demonstrate Elfman’s creativity, as well as the astounding virtuosity of the Berlin players. Elfman’s work is listenable and likely will find an audience quickly. Elfman graciously accepted the audience’s prolonged applause. It’s interesting to note that the relationship between the BPQ and Elfman began out of an invitation to hear the Berlin Philharmonic from concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley, formerly of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Bendix-Balgley has developed an impressive international presence and his introduction of Elfman to the BPQ was indeed fortuitous.
The final work was the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor. This, like the Suk, is an intensely Romantic piece with thick, rich, and dark harmonies that characterized much of the composer’s work. The third movement is an Andante that is lyrical and touching. This is Brahms at his most personal and vibrant. The BPQ played masterfully, leaving no musical stone unturned in this dramatic work.
In response to the audience applause, the BPQ played an excerpt from Schumann’s Piano Quartet, Op. 47.
This was a grand chamber concert played in the 2400- seat Lied auditorium. Because of the Lied acoustics, and possibly the panels used to shrink the size of the stage, the sound was still intimate and chamber-like. The audience seemed to number around 800 patrons- not bad for a cold winter Wednesday in Nebraska.