Returning for their second weekend of concerts with Chamber Music Tulsa, the Frenchmen of Modigliani Quartet presented a salon concert for donors and friends Saturday night on Tulsa Performing Arts Center’s Westby Pavilion. In their second of three ticketed concerts over the weekend they presented a program of quartets by Mozart and Ravel.
Notably absent from this weekend’s concerts was founding first violinist Philippe Bernhard, who was forced to resign from the quartet due to pain and tension in his right hand. In his place before the appointment of a permanent replacement was Guillaume Sutre, a veteran of the Ysaÿe Quartet, who mentored the young Modigliani players. Sutre, of a grayer generation than his counterparts, projected a fatherly presence on stage. It felt almost like a family band, finely molded and tuned by Sutre’s charisma and precision.
The performance began fittingly with the civil discourse of Mozart’s Quartet in D Major K 575, composed in 1789, two years before his death. In this piece, Mozart’s polished yet adventurous style shines as he starts to stretch the fabric of the traditional classical forms. This particular piece highlighted Sutre’s highly expressive virtuosic playing, but also unusually features copious melodies for cellist François Kieffer. The piece was driven by the two outer voices, but particularly notable was the plasticity of second violinist Loïc Rio and violist Laurent Marfaing. Their sound was a perfect blend that richly supported the dominating factors of the work. Mozart’s cheeky sense of humor was deftly highlighted by the group’s strong dialogue of tension and resolution, and the warm, bright sound lifted the audience, proving a lovely concert opener.
Next on the program was Ravel’s Quartet in F Major, a piece right in the beating heart of early 20th Century French impressionism and right in the wheelhouse of the quartet. Where the Mozart contained a limited palate, the Modiglianis masterfully teased out Ravel’s fluent timbral tongue. In the first movement, the group showed impressive restraint and control with their mostly muted, swirly colors, brightening them only in a few select places. The second movement’s fun, folksy attitude was spurred by a brisk pizzicato introduction that drove the jaunty development. This was contrasted by the intimate lushness of the third movement, wherein Ravel returns to colors that were almost whispered, and handed gently from instrument to instrument. This repose was interrupted suddenly by the fourth movement’s brash beginning, a wicked chromatic lick in an odd meter, throwing the listener off-kilter before bringing them home — for the first time in a long time — to F Major. Their interpretation was intensely thoughtful — every subtle color change was executed deliciously, and their lush variety of sound was downright orchestral. The audience leapt to their feet in admiration, and the ensemble gifted them a parting tune: a goofy but spirited rendition of Leroy Anderson’s “Plink Plank Plunk.”
Chamber Music Tulsa is an organization that excels in welcoming world-class ensembles into town for concerts that enliven the audiences and masterclasses and outreach programs that inspire the students in town. Coming up next this season is the Beethoven Winter Festival, in which Miró Quartet returns to play all 18 Beethoven string quartets in the course of February 17-26.