...The program opened with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in G major (op. 18, no. 2). This piece is heard every year courtesy of the Slee Beethoven Cycle at the University at Buffalo and, as a result, has a familiarity factor built into it for area chamber music fans.
Particularly impressive in this performance was the way the quartet handled the second movement adagio, setting up a silken contrast to the bounce of the third movement scherzo.
For my money though, the real revelation of the evening came just prior to intermission, when the ensemble took on Dmitri Shostakovich’s fourth string quartet. This work has three movements, creating a temporal backdrop where the overall speed changes subtly, focusing more on tonal shading for dynamism. It’s a matter of nuanced intensity and a not-to-be- ignored beauty. The cello and viola have prominent roles to play, helping create an atmosphere ripe with drama and emotional flux.
This was concentrated Slavic heart-on-sleeve writing with every last bit of emotion wrung from the score by the players. The audience gave the musicians a well-deserved standing ovation, something that happens more often at the end of a concert than in the middle.
After intermission, Johannes Brahms’ Quartet in A minor (op. 51, no. 2) was revealed as another gem. The British music critic Malcolm MacDonald wrote that Brahms’ quartets were filled with “a somewhat pressurized eloquence, rich (practically clotted) with musical substance and compositional subtlety.” He was right.
This was a dense piece of music where the finale dances and sings with a blend of passion and tenderness, flexing melodic muscles and wooing the listener with intelligent charm. Everything is in its place. Energetic, sprightly playing alternates with more affectingly sober moments to create a whole greater than its parts.
Not surprisingly, the group’s performance received another standing ovation. It was a good night.
GARAUD MACTAGGART, Buffalo News