Captured in Orion's orbit

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / April 20, 2009
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Nationalism once removed was on the docket for the Orion String Quartet for their Celebrity Series concert yesterday: composers annexing exogenous traditions to their own musical dominions. Joined by the superb, pan-stylistic clarinetist David Krakauer, the group captured each disparate piece within their own dramatic orbit.

The quartet opened with Hugo Wolf's brisk, sunny "Italian Serenade." The players - brothers Todd and Daniel Phillips on violin, violist Steven Tenenbom, and cellist Timothy Eddy - converged on the same focused tone and firm-edged bowing.

Excess succeeds in David Del Tredici's 2006 "Magyar Madness," commissioned for Krakauer and the Orion Quartet by a consortium of presenters. Del Tredici's neo-Romanticism nearly forgoes the prefix - four-fifths of the piece would fit the Brahmsian aesthetic of Boston a century ago - and the music's titular Hungarian color has the authenticity of a Gypsy-themed Hollywood production number.

But that is the point of the work's thronged expanse, in which any notion good enough for two bars is good enough for eight. The ensemble maintained conviction throughout: Krakauer's valiant navigation of a frequently high-flying part, the quartet's unflagging ardor.

Osvaldo Golijov's 1994 "K'vakarat," by contrast, generates power through concentration. Originally for cantor and strings, the transcription of Ashkenazic chant for clarinet lends the somber prayer a poignant, klezmer-infused vernacular overlay.

Beethoven closed the program: the second of the opus 59 "Razumovsky" quartets, the ruminative and voluble E-minor, complete with its own mischievously obsessive quotation of a Russian tune. The group adopted a vigorous precision (more vigorous than precise in the finale) that gave due heft to the music's symphonic ambitions.


David Krakauer, clarinet

At: Jordan Hall, yesterday