F. Mendelssohn, Complete String Quartets, Pacifica Quartet
While op. 13 is not of the depth that parts of the magnificent op. 80—a very special work in Mendelssohn's œuvre—contain, early opus numbers should never be cause for hesitation with this composer. The only juvenilia that are not worth repeated listening do not have opus numbers... and even those are still very fine. Sure enough, op. 13, composed at any rate when Felix was a mature composer of 18 already (by then he had already written the Octet and most of A Midsummer Night's Dream, offers beauty aplenty. It also has fugal elements in which the question "Ist es wahr" (Is it true?) pops up, a rather overt hint at Beethoven's fugal question of "Muss es sein" (Must it be?) in his last string quartet, op. 135.
G. Ligeti, String Quartets, Hagen and LaSalle Quartets
Ludwig van Beethoven's op. 131 was the second half's attraction and, as late Beethoven tends to be, all that was needed. The density and intensity of these five late string quartets are so great that their digestion takes time, is never quite complete, and often enough exhausting. They are works that you can't take too much of, but can't be without, either. For those who do not hear them at concerts often enough, there are many excellent recordings available. Current favorites of mine are the Takács performances (Decca), though the Emerson's, too, are brilliant with their icy and perfect rendition (DG). The Pacifica Quartet, meanwhile, performed splendidly also and brought out the opening Adagio's yearning and intertwined musical strands that would have done Messrs. Wagner and Mahler proud. The Allegro molto vivace was—appropriately enough—very animated, and their intonation, if not perfect, impressive. That they had fun making this music was visible and contributed to the unadulterated success of the concert.
The Pacifica Quartet is the resident Quartet at the University of Illinois, Urbana, and the University of Chicago. First and second violins are Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernardsson, Masumi Par Rostad mans the viola, and Brandon Vamos, as mentioned, wields the cello. The Freer's next and last concert features the Shanghai Quartet on the 20th of April.