Zimri Quartet (courtesy of Nancy Frampton Rising Artists Series)

Old friends, new group: Nashville’s Zimri Quartet makes its Atlanta debut

Zimri Quartet
July 23, 2022
Morningside Presbyterian Church – Atlanta
Sarah Page & Charissa Leung, violins; Tim Richardson, viola; MaryGrace Bender, cello.
Selections from the Danish String Quartet’s Last Leaf album
MOZART: String Quartet No. 20 in D major, K.499 “Hoffmeister”
SMETANA: Strong Quartet No. 1 in E minor (“From My Life”)

Mark Gresham | 8 APR 2022

Saturday’s concert by the Zimri Quartet at Morningside Presbyterian Church was a sort of homecoming for violist Tim Richardson, a native of Roswell, Georgia.

While growing up in the metro-Atlanta classical music scene, Richardson studied with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s associate principal violist, Paul Murphy. Richardson served as principal violist for the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra before attending the renowned Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University for his undergraduate studies and an Artist Diploma. He then earned his Master of Music degree at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles. Since then, he has enjoyed a varied career in music as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, and studio recording work.

It was through the McDuffie Center that Richardson met violinist Charissa Leung and cellist MaryGrace Bender. Although each pursued graduate studies at different institutions afterward, they have since reconnected in Nashville, Tennesee, as members of the Nashville Chamber Music Society, which Bender founded.

Leung had recently begun playing with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, as did violinist Sarah Page, who had previously been with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Choosing the name Zimri (“my music, my praise” in Hebrew), the four musicians came together this past January as the resident string quartet of the Nashville Chamber Music Society, according to the Nancy Frampton Rising Artists Series, which presented the Quartet in its Atlanta debut.

Saturday’s program opened with three selections from the Danish String Quartet’s Æ Rømeser (“Last Leaf”): “Shore” and “Naja’s Waltz” (both by cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin), and “Shine You No More” (by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen). Although Danish folksong arrangements comprise the majority of that album, these three excerpts are originals by members of the Danish String Quartet. They were attractive, approachable selections with which to open this concert.

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W.A. Mozart’s String Quartet No. 20 in D Major, K. 499 (“Hoffmeister”), was written in 1786 in Vienna and was published by his friend Franz Anton Hoffmeister, which is how it got its nickname. It’s a standalone quartet written between two groups of quartets, the six quartets dedicated to Joseph Haydn (1782–5) and the three “Prussian” Quartets (1789–90) that followed. Although overshadowed by those two sets, it is one of Mozart’s finest and bears some of the best characteristics of each. The Zimri Quartet gave it a more aggressive reading than expected. It would have benefitted from more attention to refinement in detail and phrasing.

The concert’s highlight, after intermission, was the opening of Bedřich Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1 in E minor (“Z mého života”) – “From My Life.” Written in 1876, it features both autobiographical and Czech nationalistic inspirations. It premiered in 1878 in Prague, in a private concert, with no less than Antonín Dvořák as the violist.

That is significant, given the importance of the viola part, especially the solo at the beginning, where Richardson’s artistry as a violist shone most boldly and convincingly set against the mostly hushed backdrop from his Zimri colleagues. It made the listener sit up and pay attention in a way that the preceding portion of the concert had not achieved and would not be fully realized again for the remainder of the performance.

Had the entire concert been as compelling as those two-dozen-or-so bars, we would have many superlatives to describe it. Alas, no, but it demonstrates that the Zimri Quartet is fully capable of reaching that kind of musical moment. They just need to work at doing that consistently, start to finish. That’s a worthy goal entirely within the group’s reach.

The Nancy Frampton Rising Artists Series is a new concert program at Morningside Presbyterian Church. Created in memory of the late Atlanta arts enthusiast Nancy Walker Frampton and scheduled by calendar year instead of the typical fall-to-spring season, the Series aims to present fresh, younger talent to Atlanta audiences. It made its debut on April 2 this year with a recital by Colombian tenor David Rivera Bozón. The season finale will take place on Saturday, October 29, with a recital by soprano Jasmine Habersham.

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Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.