Ensō String Quartet (Maureen Nelson and John Marcus, violins; Melissa Reardon, viola; Richard Belcher, cello), photo by David Mehr
Nelson had originally chosen to play the darker "Ward" violin but switched instruments with second violinist John Marcus, in the interest of the ensemble's sound. That says something about the Ensō Quartet's approach, and what stood out about their playing was that their sense of the entire composition trumped any individual player's virtuosity. Not only did we hear far more of the inner lines, especially second violin and viola, in this performance than in many others -- we wanted to hear those lines. The group's finest playing of the evening came on the modern work, Alberto Ginastera's second string quartet, op. 26, commissioned by the Library of Congress (through the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation) and premiered in 1958 by the Juilliard Quartet. It should be no surprise that the Ensō Quartet played the Ginastera well, as the group won second prize at the triennial Banff Competition, and a special honor for best performance of a new work, albeit without two members in their present makeup. (This was in 2004, as it turns out, the same year that the Jupiter Quartet won first prize.)
Andrew Lindemann Malone, Enso String Quartet (Washington Post, December 20)
-- "After a somewhat tentative first movement, the Enso pushed the tempo in the Mozart quartet's slow movement too much, making its repeated phrases sound perfunctory." [Well, we heard the same concert! -- Ed.]
The next concert in the free series at the Library of Congress (January 24, 8 pm) features Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists with pipa player Wu Man, in a program of modern music by Tan Dun, Takemitsu, and Hayashi.