immaculata 1Mozart dedicated his String Quartet No. 16 in Eb Major, K. 428 – one of six – to his mentor, friend and idol Franz Joseph Haydn. As the opening of a Sunday afternoon concert at Immaculata Church by its string ensemble in residence, the surprisingly inventive composition allowed violinists Sophie Pariot and Saeyun Lee, violist Shelby Thompson, and cellist Jonathan Lee to do their impeccable playing, highlighting the piquant touches of dissonance with which Mozart spiced up this quartet.

To follow the Mozart with  the stringency of Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1 is not only imaginative but daring in the extreme, a hallmark of this vibrant new chamber ensemble’s triumvirate of artistic directors: Jonathan Lee, Hojoon Choi, and Kanako Shimasaki.

The 69 year old Czech master finished his work in less than two weeks in 1923, titling it Kreutzer Sonata and drawing his inspiration from Leo Tolstoy’s Крейцерова соната (Kreitzerova Sonata), a harrowing novella of jealousy and murder to which Janáček gives voice in restlessly unquiet music that rivets, disturbs, and ultimately provides a much needed catharsis.

Largely tonal and not lacking in modal, folk-inspired melody, the four movement composition runs its quick and violent course over roughly 18 minutes of dramatic outbursts. Janáček breaks many rules and calls upon the players to summon all their technical skills into play.

The first violin – here the formidable Kanako Shimasaki – must deliver extended sul ponticello passages of aggressively rapid tremolando bowing. On Sunday the young violinist shared the heavy lifting on the Janáček in a no-holds-barred performance with her worthy colleagues Christina Nam and Martin Hintz, and with the rock solid cellist Hojoon Choi.

The Brahms Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 came after intermission, with Nam, Shimasaki, Hintz, Thompson, Choi and cellist Lee doubling up on violins, violas and celli. The work, with its generous outpouring of melody provided a very pleasing, at times bucolic, at other times energetic ending to an afternoon made special by great music-making.

As we drove out of Mount Adams we  could see a great view of the city at night. We thought how lucky we are to have music-making of the caliber we heard this afternoon throughout the year in Cincinnati

The group next plays next month two Bach to Bach evenings of violin sonatas and cello sonatas, and under their other name of Music Seasons String Players it takes on Mendelssohn and Mozart in April at Peterloon.

Rafael de Acha