Review: Parker Quartet makes strong debut in Pittsburgh

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 1:00 p.m.

Hope proceeds every debut but rarely is it so well fulfilled as on Nov. 18 when the Parker Quartet gave its first concert for the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. The concert was refreshing in both the choice of repertoire and individuality of performance.

The American ensemble was founded in 2002, has already won a Grammy, and will become artists in residence in 2014 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Many of the ensemble's attributes were immediately apparent in Felix Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op 44, No. 1. Less frequently played than Mendelssohn's first two quartets, the Third is at least as classical as it is romantic in style. It even includes a minuet.

Daniel Chong is the brilliant first violin of the Parker Quartet, a strong leader whose personality served Mendelssohn's music very well. His tone was beautiful and focused, his technique utterly reliable, and his range of articulation was always winning.

The inner voices — second violin Ying Xue and violist Jessica Bodnar — were very well matched. Cellist Kee-Hyun Kim was too recessive in this piece for my taste, but his more assertive style later in the concert showed this balance was a choice.

The Parker Quartet employs a very wide dynamic range based on several levels of soft and softer playing, all of which were evenly maintained from instrument to instrument.

Irwin Schulhoff's String Quartet No. 1, which followed the Mendelssohn, is a very appealing “modern” work written in 1924. It embraces the edgy and grotesque without forsaking beauty. The viola and cello solos in the second movement had beautifully defined personalities.

The concert concluded with Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 9, which is overshadowed by its predecessor. The Ninth is dedicated to his third wife and not surprisingly is more affirmative than his works primarily addressing life in the Soviet state.

The Parker Quartet gave a dynamic and songful performance in which the cellist really stepped forward. Second violinist Xue showed she can truly lead when the scoring gives her the chance. Violist Bodnar was commanding in her solos, too, and also might well be considered the glue of the ensemble.

The encore was a brief movement from Jeremy Gill's hour-long “Capriccio,” which was commissioned and premiered by the Parker. It offered another opportunity to enjoy Kim's mastery of the cello and vital musical spirit.

The only drawback was that Carnegie Music Hall's ventilation system was running during the concert. It was particularly unfortunate given the Parker's mastery of soft dynamics. From where I was sitting there were times when the blower was as loud or louder than the music.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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