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"Program as good as Brahms gets" by Clarke Bustard
From The Richmond Times Dispatch
An all-Brahms program by the Shanghai Quartet is about as close to rapture as music-
making gets. The four fiddlers proved that again last night as they played the composer's
two string sextets with Ida Kavafian and Peter Wiley.
Bringing in Kavafian, the former violinist of Tashi and the Beaux Arts Trio, as second violist
and the Guarneri Quartet's Wiley as second cellist may seem pretty extravagant; but
musicians of this caliber, with ears this sensitive to complementary tone production, gave
the performances extra cohesiveness of sound and unity of purpose.
Brahms' Sextet No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 18, needs such help. It boasts beautiful tunes but
too many of them -- enough, really, for a couple of symphonies -- and it sprawls,
especially in an enormous first movement.
The musicians' rich, singing tone and dynamism helped offset the sensation of "swimming
in chocolate," as one concertgoer put it. Vigorous accents in the andante and scherzo
movements added some welcome crunch.
In the more compact and coherently organized Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36, the six
musicians drew the listener into Brahms' mind and heart and also into a sound world still
being shaped by the composer, who began the piece when he was in his 20s.
The Shanghai -- violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li and cellist
Nicholas Tzavaras -- and Kavafian and Wiley were audibly intent on producing a collective
voice of warm lyricism, quicksilver sonic fantasy and deep, if understated, passion.
It was one of the most perfectly paced, proportioned, articulated and expressed
performances of Brahms that I ever expect to hear.
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