Pacifica Quartet — Image via pacificaquartet.com

Pacifica Quartet & Anthony McGill

Music in the Park Series
Works by Mozart, Shostakovich, and Brahms

Between 2008 and 2011, the Pacifica Quartet made a lasting impression on Twin Cities audiences with their performances of the complete Beethoven string quartet cycle over the course of six concerts sponsored by Saint Paul’s Music in the Park Series. On Sunday, the group returned, this time in the company of Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, to open the series’s 2013-14 season, playing works by Mozart, Shostakovich, and Brahms.

Anthony McGill — Image via anthonymcgill.comThe Pacifica and McGill began with Mozart’s famous Clarinet Quintet, written for Anton Stadler, one of the first virtuosi of the instrument. The highlight of their rendition was the slow second movement, in which McGill played hauntingly over muted strings. Two minor-key episodes — the third movement’s strings-only first trio and the fourth movement’s viola-driven third variation — also proved memorable, with the string players giving Mozart’s delicate rhythms plenty of room to breathe (a contrast with the first movement, in which the textures seemed a bit thick for Mozart).

Next, the Pacifica performed Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 7, the composer’s shortest quartet and one of his most eerie. The group is in the midst of a multi-year project recording all 15 of Shostakovich’s string quartets, and they have clearly gained a great deal of insight into his music. In their performance of No. 7, the musicians seemed to attack the notes, generating a great deal of tension during the first two movements before erupting into a forceful rendition of the fugue at the beginning of the third movement. After this episode, the reprised themes from the first two movements seemed both sadder and calmer, leading to the piece’s anticlimactic conclusion.

After the intermission, McGill returned for a performance of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet, which turned out to be the high point of the recital. Brahms’s and Mozart’s quintets share many elements, including the use of a theme and variations in the final movement, but Brahms’s piece has a more expansive, orchestral quality. After an engaging performance of the first movement, with its shifting moods, the Pacifica and McGill once again shone in the slow movement, making Brahms’s melodies feel almost improvisational. The remaining two movements continued to be marked by a seamless integration of the clarinet and strings, working their way through the composer’s seemingly endless store of musical ideas. The piece’s slow, reflective closing bars brought the impressive program to a close, inspiring a few moments of silence before the audience burst into deserved applause.

Pacifica Quartet photo by Saverio Truglia
Anthony McGill photo by David Finlayson

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.