The Sona String Quartet’s excellent performances of Mozart and Benjamin Britten for the Mainly Mozart Festival formed a prelude to Saturday’s real event —a sizzling account of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor featuring Marina Radiushina.
A University of Miami Frost School of Music graduate who has spent several seasons as a member of the Carnegie Hall-Juilliard School sponsored Ensemble ACJW in New York, Radiushina brought new energy and momentum to the quartet’s playing.
Despite the overly bright and blurry acoustics of the meeting room at the Coral Gables Museum, she managed a scrupulously articulated, transparent reading of the keyboard line. Blending skillfully with the string players, her pianism was stately, restrained and lyrical. In the more tempestuous episodes of the first movement, Radiushina vaulted powerful fistfuls of notes at a fleet clip. She exhibited a poetic touch in the Andante, mining the long-limbed melodic lines and melancholy. The relentless forward thrust of the Scherzo was intense.
While not for Brahmsian purists, this was vital, exciting music making. The quartet vividly engendered the mystery and tension of the introduction to the finale. Cellist Aaron Merritt’s eloquent shaping of the dance-like principal subject was like a catharsis after a stormy journey. With Radiushina playing at white heat, all stops were pulled out for a searing coda.
The Sona Quartet is the flagship string ensemble of the Miami Music Project, co-presenter (with the Gables museum) of the Mozart festival series. With informal performances in Miami-Dade County schools for thousands of students, the four former New World Symphony players have honed their ensemble skills.
In their best outing to date at the festival, the Sona players offered a lithe, graceful traversal of Mozart’s Quartet in G Major, K. 387, one of six quartets he composed in tribute to Haydn.
Violist Yael Kleinman Hyken’s warm, sonorous tone enveloped the secondary theme in the opening Allegro vivace. With strong leadership from violinist Aleksandr Zhuk, the witty angularity of the Menuetto’s principal theme contrasted with the abrupt chords and darker modulations of the trio.
There was beautiful interplay of the two violins and cello, with varied dynamics and noble phrasing probing the deep emotions beneath the aristocratic surface of the Andante. The players assayed the double fugal writing in the finale with clarity, violinist Karen-Lord Powell and Merritt tossing the themes seamlessly among the players.
Finally, the two fugues sounded simultaneously at full throttle, a preview of Mozart’s finale in his later Jupiter Symphony. Bringing comic opera brio to the spirited melodies, the players captured the humor of the Haydnesque false ending, which brought some applause before the actual quiet finish.
In honor of the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, the British composer’s early Three Divertimenti (1936) proved a sparkling novelty. With country-style fiddling and slides plus dissonant harmonics, a brisk march, sentimental waltz and hard-charging Burlesque offered a snappy makeover of traditional forms, delivered with surging brilliance.