It was a pleasure to welcome back the Brentano Quartet for a return engagement after its highly acclaimed performance for the Carmel Music Society in 2013. On this occasion, the quartet was joined by 29-year-old pianist Yekwon Sunwoo, Gold Medalist at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, who had recently appeared on the Carmel Music Society’s series in September 2018.
The program consisted of only two major works: Beethoven’s late String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132, and Dvořák’s Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Major, Opus 81. Prior to the performance, the Carmel Music Society’s President, Peter Thorp, came out on stage to greet the audience and inform us that the order of the program had been reversed. Contrary to the printed program, we would be hearing the Dvořák Quintet first and the Beethoven Quartet after intermission. The reason for this change was partially because Korean pianist Sunwoo had attracted so many members of the Korean community on the Monterey Peninsula. Since some of these were very young children, they might have found it difficult to sit through the long 45-minute performance of the Beethoven prior to the Dvořák.
The first thing an audience hears in a performance of the Dvořák Quintet is a quiet broken chord A-Major introduction on the piano, followed by a lovely opening cello solo that is a joy to cello players all over the world. What follows are delicious themes and sparkling virtuoso passages that make the Dvořák Quintet one of the great examples of the piano quintet genre on a par with those by Brahms, Schumann, and Cesar Franck.
Pianist Sunwoo was amazing and dazzling as he was everywhere all over the keyboard in some very difficult keyboard passages, yet remaining a sensitive ensemble player and allowing each of the other instruments to have their significant moments without undue interference. Especially moving in the first movement was a stunning viola solo by Misha Amery (on the largest viola we had ever seen), which was subsequently echoed by violinist Mark Steinberg and cellist Nina Lee.
The most memorable parts of the Dvořák Quintet were the agitated Scherzo third movement and the Allegro finale. This was where everything came together in a furious finale and produced the most satisfying cumulative effect.
After intermission the four members of the Quartet returned to the stage at Sunset Center and gave us a profound performance of the Beethoven Quartet No. 15 that had moments of deep introspection alternating with disturbing agitation and blissful serenity. This was a powerful performance.
We will be looking forward to a return performance by the Brentano Quartet. And, Yekwon Sunwoo will always be welcome — either as an ensemble partner or a soloist.