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Amphion String Quartet Takes Carnegie Hall by Storm

by Melanie Wong

Amphion photo shoot red final

Many of today’s leading classical artists kicked off their careers by winning Concert Artists Guild's Victor Elmaleh Competition—the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet, Grammy-nominated wind quintet Imani Winds, and Klezmer clarinet extraordinaire David Krakauer, to name a few. So, what better way to spend a Tuesday night than to attend the Carnegie Hall debut of one of CAG’s 2011 winners, the Amphion String Quartet

Hugo Wolf’s lively Italian Serenade opened the program, giving ASQ the chance to show fantastic blend, style, and dynamics; however, their choice of tempi was quite hasty and felt a bit chaotic, with frequent moments of uncertainty. Although frenzied, their rendition held together well and kept the audience firmly on the edge of their seats.

With nerves calmed, ASQ followed the Wolf with a combination piece: the Andante fragment from Franz Schubert’s unfinished Quartet in C minor, leading directly into Bruce Adolphe’s reactionary work, Fra(nz)g-mentation. A mere two minutes of music, Schubert’s fragment ends abruptly, trailing off in the middle of descending triplets in the first violin. In contrast to Schubert’s early Romantic style, Adolphe’s reaction was more modern—a mellow start that quickly became more violent, twisting and turning in unexpected directions. The work fragmented between calm and crazed sections with increasing intensity until its dramatic end. ASQ delivered both the Schubert and the Adolphe with extreme precision and energy; their ability to imperceptibly shift moods is a wonderful strength.

Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters,” closed the first half, a fascinatingly schizophrenic love story written for his muse, Kamila Stosslova, to whom he wrote hundreds of love letters throughout his lifetime. It’s a fine line between genius and insanity, and by the end of the tumultuous work, Janáček’s moods and characters dramatically shifted every few bars. From excitement to despair, passion to longing, joy to sadness, and serenity to mania, ASQ showed an inimitable ability to effectively and accurately depict the many facets of the composer’s deranged, yet fully intriguing, emotional state.

After intermission, guest artist David Shifrin joined ASQ for Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. Here, ASQ acted as perfect accompanists—solid, stylistic, and consistently supportive. Shifrin, a renowned clarinetist (and 1973 CAG winner), performed the Mozart in an oddly Romantic style, and although his technique was effortless throughout the technical passages, it was frequently careless during simpler ones. Still, Shifrin gracefully floated in and out of ASQ’s sound and, on the whole, made playing the clarinet look easy.

Special kudos to cellist Mihai Marica and violist Wei-Yang Andy Lin, whose particularly rich sounds and blend were a real treat. So evenly matched, the two often sounded like one player and consistently provided a solid bass for the quartet to stand on. ASQ are captivating performers, to say the least, and it would not be surprising to see them up for a Grammy in the future (watch out, Parker Quartet…).

Surely a group not to miss, ASQ will be back in New York City in mid-July for a workshop and performance at New York University