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Xiayin Wang and the Escher String Quartet

by Craig Brinker


There is a lot of chamber music being performed on any given week in New York, and one of the best tickets in the city this week was pianist Xiayin Wang and fellow rising stars, the Escher String Quartet. The ensemble delivered fine performances of some of the quintessential chamber repertoire Monday evening at Alice Tully Hall, presenting Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 1, an arrangement of Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas by Astor Piazzolla, and Brahms' Piano Quintet. Throughout the evening, the Escher Quartet proved that they are an ensemble that understands the importance of structure, narrative, and emotional resonance—conveying the big picture of each work without glossing over the details.

The Fauré calls upon the pianist to play neverending cascades of arpeggios, and Ms. Wang imbued these flowing lines with grace and tenderness, creating undulating waves under the melodic interplay of the strings. In that wondrous moment when the slow movement moves from minor to major, the performers were thoughtful and paced the moment well.

The middle work on the program was an arrangement of two movements of Argentine composer Ástor Piazzolla's Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). The performers took advantage of the varied moods in both movements, giving each episode a distinctly ethnic flavor. Piazzolla's music demands to be played with style and personality, and both Wang and the quartet put plenty of passion into the music, with the string players laying into the noted glissandos that make Piazzolla's music so distinctive.

The performers threw themselves into the Brahms without reservation, lending the piece a sense inevitable gravity. From the assertiveness of the opening theme to the tricky fugato in the final movement, they gave clarity and form to Brahms' ideas. The Scherzo in particular was played with a tremendous intensity and momentum, with the players attacking the galloping rhythm in the 2/4 sections.

The beginning of the finale was sublime, with the slowly overlapping harmonies creating mystery and nostalgia. Yang's playing was by turns fluid and graceful, dark and mysterious. Unlike the Fauré, this was not a parlor piece, but a work full of gestures on a grand, symphonic scale—chamber music rendered in cinemascope, and Xiayin Wang and the Escher Quartet's performance was true to that spirit.