Maneval Sextet Premiered

Posted: May 15, 1990

The Galimir String Quartet last night rounded out the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society's season at the Port of History Museum with a concert that featured works by Haydn and Debussy, and the premiere performance of a work by Philadelphia composer Philip Maneval.

The group has undergone many transformations since it was founded in 1929 by violinist Felix Galimir and members of his family. Galimir, in fact, is the only original member. So there was little in last night's performance that would indicate the kind of rapport that comes with years of playing together - with time and work, a closeness that produces a confident and unified voice.

The Quartet in G Minor by Debussy, a warhorse of the repertoire, revealed a lack of agreement on matters of articulation and phrasing, and most painfully obvious, intonation. The three junior members of the quartet - violinist Hiroko Yajima, violist Steven Tenenbom and cellist Timothy Eddy - interacted best among themselves. But Galimir was often left out of their communication. Consequently, it was in solo passages - for example, by the second violin, viola and cello in the expressive third movement - that the piece was at its strongest.

Violist Ida Kavafian and cellist Wilhelmina Smith joined the quartet for the first performance of Maneval's Sextet for Strings (1989), presented under the auspices of the society's Composers Commissioning Project, funded by Pew Charitable Trusts.

The work conveyed a convincing, yet unconventional, sense of form, both in its entirety and within individual movements. Comprising five movements, the piece has at its center three short movements that pay tribute to Stravinsky, Bartok and Webern. Happily, they each capture the spirit of those three geniuses of 20th-century music without imitating them in an obvious way.

The outer two movements are longer, and contain detailed structures all their own, that, because of their relative length and complexity, provide a definite sense of beginning and end to the work. This strong shape helped to make Maneval's somewhat evanescent musical language easier to grasp.

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