Mozart's Quartet for Flute and Strings in C Major, K 285b, opened the first half. Tara Helen O'Connor was the flutist, playing together with Mark Steinberg, violin, Misha Amory, viola, and Nina Lee, cello, all members of the Brentano Quartet. O'Connor played in a classic, dulcet Mozartian timbre, varying her sound and bringing out a husky aspiration in the lower register. Crisp and spritely, O'Connor navigated her way through tricky sections with amazingly agile octave jumps. As an ensemble the group played with an incredibly light and airy blend, yet always with respect for the integrity of the composition. Lee took front and center in the Andantino with soaring bass lines, and Amory played the marvelous solo lines for the viola with a delicate poco saltando.
The String Quartet No 16 in E-flat Major, K 428 was next, and Serena Canin joined on violin. There were interaction issues on the more sparse, thinner passages; the playing felt almost too polite at times. The phrasing and dynamic shifts were somewhat predictable, and pitchiness kept cropping up as an issue. During the final allegro vivace the group rallied for a powerful, exuberant attack, and the phrasing became more engaging.
The second half saw the Calidore Quartet (Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan violin, Jeremy Berry, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello) joined by O'Connor and Andrea Lam on piano, to present a scaled-down version by Johann Peter Salomon of Haydn's Symphony in G Major, Hob I:94 'Surprise.'
There was clear and concise execution from the first violin in the Andante, and a mellifluous cantabile. In the Allegro Molto the violins balanced perfectly during the counterpoint, and throughout O'Connor continued to impress by balancing numerous roles--whether as soloist, accentuator, or stand-in for the entire wind band, she was always in control, keenly aware of the tricky place she occupied however rapidly the roles shifted.
It was fascinating to hear this chestnut stripped down to such a spare ensemble. The group did not make the mistake of trying to convince the audience that they were a full-sized orchestra for this work--rather the impression they imparted was that just maybe this work was composed for a small chamber ensemble, and a fine and accurate impression it was.