Brentano String Quartet. Photo by Juergen Frank.
Brentano String Quartet. Photo by Juergen Frank.

Adrian Fung, Executive and Artistic Director of the Music in the Morning Concert Society, sped on to the stage at the Vancouver Academy of Music, riding a medical scooter. He joked about being the product of a marriage between a Chinese man and a shopping cart. But he immediately became serious about his ankle issues that require surgical attention and warned that he might be absent from the Society’s next concert in October because of his post-operative recovery. All present wished him well.

The breakneck velocity of Fung’s entrance to introduce the Brentana String Quartet set the pace for what was to follow. This ensemble of accomplished musicians attacked Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No.12 in E-flat Major, Opus 127 at a pace that left the audience in catch-up mode.

When they played the final chord of Beethoven’s masterpiece, viola player Misha Amory breathed, “Phew!” and the audience sighed with exhaustion along with him.

It was not an easy listen. The energy with which Brentana played confirmed their emotional commitment but inhibited much of the lyricism that threads through Beethoven’s music.

It was no surprise that this Quartet No.12 is first violinist Mark Steinberg’s favourite as he and his fellow musicians appeared to play more for their own enjoyment rather than that of the audience.

Their intensity left little room for nuance and failed to define the subtle differences within movements. They almost danced off their seats with uninhibited passion, to the extent that at times it was distracting to watch them. Cellist Nina Lee in particular.

A slower rendition, with more light and shade, might have expressed Beethoven’s intention more sensitively.

However, the Quartet’s opening Josquiniana, written specifically for them by distinguished US composer Charles Wuorinen, was a delight. Wuorinen adapted the work from one of the greatest composers of Renaissance Europe, Josquin des Prés, often simply referred to as Josquin. Hence the title, Josquiniana.

The Brentano String Quartet’s rendition of the six pieces that comprise Josquiniana reflected their keen interest in performing early music.

As a sign of their high standing in the music world, Brentana String Quartet played the music for the critically acclaimed independent film A Late Quartet. They have won countless awards and performed in the world’s most prestigious venues. So negative criticism is hardly a regular occurrence. However, it was disappointing that the kick-off to Music in the Morning’s 2019/20 season fell short of its usual highly satisfying standard.

Next month’s concert, on October 9th, 10th and 11th, will feature baritone Russell Braun singing Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe. He will be accompanied by the internationally acclaimed pianist Carolyn Maule. Canadian Opera Company’s 2001 Artist of the Year, Braun and his wife Maule promise to be a hit with all who enjoy listening to great music in the morning.

This season, select Wednesday performances will be followed by an in-depth conversation exploring the history of the pieces and background of the artists involved with Music in the Morning founder June Goldsmith. Noon with June will also be open to those not attending Wednesday performances.

For more information on Music in the Morning’s ongoing morning concert series visit musicinthemorning.org.