As he introduced the world premiere of a composition by Danny Elfman on Wednesday, violist Matthew Hunter said the Berlin Philharmonic Piano Quartet was delighted with the piece and he hoped the Lied Center for Performing Arts audience would be delighted with it too.
It was. In fact, the not-yet-titled work by the composer known for his scores for films such as “Batman” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” truly is delightful as well as challenging, even for one of the world’s top piano quartets.
Divided into five parts, Elfman’s piece is strikingly contemporary, with Philip Glass-like passages particularly in the first and third sections, rapidly changing meter, a juggling of moods between the sections and percussive elements, at times coming from the piano, at times from the plucked strings of the violin, viola and cello.
Clocking in at about 20 minutes, the piece, in the hands of the quartet, was an exhilarating ride with the heft and gravitas required of classical music, but with a pop sensibility and melody popping through.
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Elfman’s piece contrasted with the 18th and 19th century works that came before and after. The concert opened with a short concertante by Franz Schubert that was carried by the unison playing of the strings. It was followed by a dramatic rendition of Josef Suk’s “Piano Quartet in A minor, Op.1.”
The second half of the program was Johannes Brahms’ “Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25,” a 40-minute, four-movement piece that captivated with a lush, melodic third movement, then moved into the fast, difficult fourth section that showcased the exquisite playing of the quartet, particularly that of pianist Markus Groh.
The performance ended with a brief encore written by Robert Schumann, capping an evening that will be memorable as the quartet’s first Lincoln performance and even more so for the premiere of Elfman’s brilliant composition.