Review by Judith Caldwell
The word is definitely out about the standard of music offered at the Five at the First series of concerts, the organizers at the opening concert of the 2019 season had the nice problem of needing to bring in extra chairs for the over capacity audience for String Extravaganza VIII. The concert began with 14 year old Emad Zolfaghari, viola and pianist Emily Rho, playing Franz Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione & Piano in A minor – Allegro moderato. Young performers often appear nervous performing a difficult passage, not so Zolfaghari, he looked totally lost in the music * One felt that he was thoroughly enjoying it as he tossed off the multiple difficult passages with ease. The combination of musical ability and stage presence should take him far. Rho was, as usual, a flawless accompanist. The first part continued with String Quintet No 2 in G major by Johannes Brahms. Violinists Czaba Koczo & Yehonatan Berick, Caitlin Boyle & Theresa Rudolph, violas; and Rachel Desoer cello were the quintet for this piece. This was supposed to be Brahms’ swan song as he announced he would retire after writing it, fortunately he was lured out of retirement to compose more music. The Quintet is in four movements and begins with a light-hearted Allegro non troppo where the cello initially carries the melody. Violas are prominent in the pensive adagio which Koczo, in his introduction, said sounds Hungarian with hints of Czardas. Then the Un poco allegretto is so delightful that the audience had to applaud a bit. The whole thing is wrapped up with a joyous, lively Vivace.
Brahms was not sure he could write string chamber music as he was following the giants of Hayden, Mozart and Beethoven, but this quintet shows he was more than up to the task. The musicians clearly enjoyed it and so did the audience. After intermission a different quintet, Berick & Koczo, Rudolph, Rachel Mercer & Desoer, cellos tackled Schubert’s monumental String Quintet in C major. This really was Schubert’s swan song as he died 2 months after its completion and it wasn’t performed for another 22 years. Also in four movements, the double celli gives the piece added depth and resonance. The Allegro ma non troppo is lovely with a gorgeous cello/viola melody and an intense, dramatic ending. The adagio featured plucked strings in the lead violin and lead cello and the Scherzo was so lively and infectious that most of the audience failed to resist the urge to clap. The final Allegretto was danceable fun which had Berick tapping his toe & the other musicians grinning until the dramatic, focused ending at which the audience leapt to their feet for a very well-deserved and prolonged standing ovation. The next concert is The Mosaique Project, on Saturday, February 23rd
Website – http://www.5atthefirst.com