Wihan Quartet
•What: An Ensemble Music Society presentation
•When: Wednesday
•Where: Indiana History Center
•Bottom line: Honoring Czech music with extraordinary blend.

Czech quartet perfects Eastern European fare

By Whitney Smith
January 27, 2005

A Czech string quartet that played in Indianapolis about five years ago returned for another Ensemble Music Society concert Wednesday night, and once again, it featured a program seasoned with Eastern European fare.

Formed in Prague and with a residency at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, the Wihan Quartet is now 20 years old. The group boasts the same members as in 1999: violinists Leos Cepicky and Jan Schulmeister, violist Jiri Zigmund and cellist Ales Kasprik.

Last time, the Wihan matched up a quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven with music by Czech composers Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek.

This visit, performed in a nearly full Indiana History Center Theater, the Wihan Quartet blended Franz Joseph Haydn's "Emperor" Quartet in C with Smetana's Quartet No. 2 and Antonin Dvorak's opus 34, both in D minor.

The Wihan played the "Emperor" Quartet's opening "Allegro" movement cleanly, emphasized the structural symmetry and quirky accents of the "Menuetto" and let loose with virtuosic triplet passages in the finale.

But Haydn's lyrical second movement -- with its famous tune immortalized in hymns and national anthems -- seemed to be the true focus of this interpretation. The blend was extraordinary, especially among the upper three voices, although the cello articulation occasionally seemed muddy. Considering there's not much contrast between variations, the unvaryingly deliberate pace got old.

Wonderful contrast was struck among the inner movements of the Smetana Quartet. The second movement opens with a polka that the Wihan tossed off in such a carefree manner that the agitation in the following movement seemed all the more exciting.

Dvorak's D minor Quartet came across most successfully. Lovely arched phrasing distinguished the opening "Allegro" movement. The second movement was even more polkalike than the Smetana, with wonderfully light articulation. The"Andante" offered wonderful harmonic playing, especially between second violin and viola, which harmonized and played bold solos with equal finesse.

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