Only at the Bowdoin International Music Festival: a standing-room-only concert consisting of two craggy works by Bartok bookending the Ravel Introduction and Allegro. The final work on the program, Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3 (Sz.85), played by the Ying Quartet, received a long standing ovation.

The concert was part of the festival’s popular UpBeat! series, held each Wednesday evening at Studzinsky Recital Hall.

The program began with the Bartok Sonata for Solo Violin (Sz. 117) played by Ani Schnarch, an anti-virtuoso work that is nevertheless one of the most difficult ever written for the instrument.

In it, Bartok pays homage to the Bach Partitas and sonatas for solo violin, incorporating both a chaconne and a fugue. The latter would have gotten him kicked out of counterpoint class, since he keeps adding new material.

But it is the adagio Melodia movement that reveals Bartok at his greatest — a melody so profound that it needs no embellishment. One critic maintains that it surpasses Bach and approaches the totally natural but angelic sound of bird-song. 

The score as a whole is so difficult that the composer asked Yehudi Menuhin, who commissioned the work, to suggest ways to make it easier to play, for example by making the quarter-tone passages optional.

I don’t know whether Schnarch played the quarter-tones, but her tone color and shading were excellent throughout.

In a lighter mode was a thoroughly delightful performance of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, with June Han playing the harp. This is a familiar work on recordings, but the live performance brought out hidden beauties and a lush, tropical flavor. It ends with what sounds to me like a dawn chorus of birds over the streets of Seville.

Bartok’s short String Quartet No. 3, which followed intermission, is notable for its tight construction and glaring contrasts, from the most brutal szfortzandos to the composer’s most ethereal night music.

It also incorporates a range of tonal effects, including sul ponticello (on the bridge), col legno (playing with the wood of the bow) and the Bartok snap — plucking the string so hard that it rebounds against the fingerboard.

The Ying Quartet managed the work with aplomb and passion, which concert-goers at this year’s festival have come to expect. The performance received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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