More than virtuoso playing or smart programming, it’s passion that makes a chamber concert click. Passion is the cloth that covers the musical nakedness of four musicians playing music that demands intimacy.
And what is intimacy without passion?
This point was elegantly driven home by Bay Area-based Quartet San Francisco on Tuesday night at the Music Recital Hall at California State University, Sacramento. The quartet rewarded the sellout audience with an incandescent performance of tango and jazz music.
This ensemble, riding high off the buzz of two Grammy nominations for the CD “Látigo,” is nothing if not full of fervor for Argentine tango music. Violinists Jeremy Cohen and Kayo Miki, cellist Joel Cohen and violist Emily Onderdonk are unassuming but intelligent musicians who take the tango form seriously. This was evidenced by their take of Enrique Saborido’s luscious “Felicia.” Here the ensemble paid homage to one of the giants of old tango music. The quartet played with ardor and flair, with Joel Cohen’s cello inserting a tasty and plucky bass line that anchored the soaring melodic line of the violins and viola.
The same inspired playing marked the milonga “Taquito Militar” by Mariano Mores. The quartet made this music sound urbane and new despite it being written in 1952.
No concert of tango music is complete without the work of Astor Piazzolla, and this quartet gave a tasteful and deeply soulful reading of his sublime “Melodia in A Minor.” The musical complexity of this work was deftly handled, with these players showing an expertise at coaxing gritty and syncopated sounds from their instruments.
The greatest asset this quartet offers is a desire to connect with audiences by using popular music. Jeremy Cohen’s arrangements of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo ala Turk” and “Strange Meadowlark” sounded vibrant and pliant, as if they’ve been part of the chamber repertoire for years.
This quartet knows how to have a good time, as they showed on Turtle Island String Quartet’s arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s “Cool” from “West Side Story.” Here the players entered a musical zone, as if they were jamming in a garage and sharing a sublime musical moment.
You don’t often get to see chamber musicians have that much fun onstage. And in the final accounting, isn’t that what chamber music is really all about?