Having made quite a name for themselves over the last years, not the least through their now complete Shostakovich cycle on hyperion, the St. Petersburg String Quartet stopped by the National Gallery of Art in a program of Mendelssohn, Smetana, and – delightfully – Shostakovich. Mendelssohn’s quartet no. 2, op. 13, was recently presented in D.C. by the Pacifica Quartet (see Ionarts review) – but it’s a work one can’t hear often enough.
F. Mendelssohn, String Quartets, Talich Quartet
It is good to see Mendelssohn’s quartets really take off (the Emerson gave a taste of it just this Thursday at the Strathmore Hall – as reviewed by Ionarts – because they are all exquisite. If I don’t dare claim that they are musically superior to Schumann’s or Brahms’s string quartets, I’ll at least point out that they are far, far easier to enjoy and also needn’t be played at near perfect levels to convince.
D. Shostakovich, Quartets 5, 7, and 9, St. Petersburg SQ4t
B. Smetana, String Quartets, Panocha Quartet
Over sheer endless pedal points, Smetana’s first (of two) quartet (“From My Life”), in E minor, started the second half. Written eight years before the composer’s death in 1884, it already shows his bouts with deafness and perhaps even syphilis. The quartet’s depiction of ‘inner hearing’ – Smetana’s attempt to depict in music the sensation of deafness – got an eerie touch from the reverberant acoustic of the West Garden Court that, on the downside, was also responsible for the wash of sound that dominated most of the concert. The amiable performance of this quartet stuffed with musical references served the enjoyment of the audience well, much like the Mendelssohn.