Although nobody in the Petar Jankovic Ensemble hails from the Latin world, their sensuous tangos and impassioned flamencos beautifully disguised that fact during a two-hour set Sunday afternoon for the Sheldon Friends of Chamber Music.
Jankovic, a guitarist and native of Serbia, navigated his four stringed amigos -- or, in this case, amigas-- through convincing musical stopovers in Spain, Brazil and Argentina.
As the quintet took the stage in Abbott Auditorium, the crowd of about 150 warmly applauded their arrival. Drawing first on Spanish influences, the ensemble performed two Manuel de Falla compositions: "La Vida Breve” and “El Amor Brujo.”
Cellist Kyra Saltman, seated and in the center, plucked notes that were supple yet soft. Violinists Sophie Bird and Minju Kim took Federico Moreno-Torroba’s “Sonatina in A” to a pleasantly sorrowful place, punctuated by Jankovic’s whispery harmonics. Left alone to polish off the first set, his four movements on “Suite del Recuerdo” were pleasing, but they intimated that Jankovic is a musician more interested in dialogue than soliloquy.
After a 20-minute intermission, the quintet was back, returning to its namesake’s musical heritage with “Six Popular Romanian Dances.” Violist Rose Wollman weaved rich texture while the ensemble pirouetted from mournful to insouciant.
But the most adventurous part of the afternoon, by some margin, was the debut of “(Com)Passionate Music,” a number young composer Elliott Bark penned especially for the group. A frantic beginning suggested "Manchurian Candidate"-style suspense, only to be stifled mid-chase by Jankovic’s ethereal vibrato-tinged notes.
Near closing, the group again recalled Argentina, sampling from Astor Piazzolla, the godfather of tango. Before leaving (they returned to oblige a hearty encore), a sly-smiling Jankovic remarked, “We’re not a typical string quartet. Well, actually, we’re not even a quartet.”
That’s true -- and it’s why they sounded so exotic.