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Velvet sound of quartet also enlightening.

Byline: Frank Magiera

COLUMN: MUSIC REVIEW

Think classical music and, understandably, you think Europe. But with the world getting smaller and, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman constantly reminds us, flatter, the creation, appreciation and performance of great music clearly defies geographic boundaries.

Case in point: the New Zealand String Quartet, which performed at Tuckerman Hall Friday night for Music Worcester. Ostensibly hailing from the other side of the world, but actually comprising a Canadian and two Americans (one reared in Kansas and the other in upstate New York) as well as a native New Zealander, this quartet personifies globalization. And Friday's program had no trouble whatsoever expounding on the important, the more important, and the most important influences in the classical canon.

The luscious, velvet sound of this group was apparent from the opening phrases of its first selections, Mendelssohn's Andante variations in E major and the Scherzo in A minor. Mendelssohn, the boy wonder of classical music, wrote these pieces near the end of his brief life after purging his grief over the death of his sister with the F Minor Quintet. The musicians found exactly the right balance between that lingering melancholy and the flame that ignited the composer's inspired overture for "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Mendelssohn's influence on 19th-century music was perhaps second only to Beethoven's and the program recognized that in extraordinary fashion by devoting the entire second half of the program to a splendid reading of the String Quartet in C Sharp minor. The quartet was the composer's own favorite and if it isn't everybody else's, it is certainly monumental - operatic in scale, with seven movements and 14 tempo changes played with barely a pause for a violinist to catch her breath.

Sandwiched in between was still another groundbreaking work, Bartok's String Quartet No. 4, a dissonant, experimental piece that nevertheless reflects the composer's development much as the C Sharp Minor Quartet reflects Beethoven's.

Far-flung musicians such as the New Zealand String Quartet often take particular pride in showcasing their own native composers. In this case it was Ross Harris whose fascination with World War II came to focus on the fact the occupants of Hitler's bunker danced to a lovely song called "Blood Red Roses," the only recording available to them. Ross used the song to launch a stirring quartet that distorts the romantic melody into a lurching, fitful symbol of fading Nazi perversity.

You just have to love the way the New Zealand Quartet draws in its audience by chatting easily about the history and significance of the music it performs. Thankfully, these musicians don't expect their audiences to be experts or musical historians. Each piece was introduced by an informative narrative that explained the significance of the music and the subtle intricacies of the compositions, followed by a sublime performance. Likewise, the quartet also played the original version of "Blood Red Roses" before revealing how Ross used the music to extract his vivid commentary.

The encore was another special treat - Gershwin's Second Piano Prelude - arranged for the quartet by the violinist, Douglas Beilman, who clearly isn't in Kansas anymore.

And Gershwin never sounded so good.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 11, 2007
Words:525
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