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27.3.07

Auryn Quartett, Finishing Up at FAES

Not only the audience, but also the performers wanted to thank the organizer behind the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences concert series, presenting her with a basket of flowers. Over the course of the last three Sunday afternoons at Bethesda's Congregation Beth El, the Cologne-based Auryn Quartett has presented a complete cycle of the Britten string quartets, as well as a complete cycle of the Mozart string quintets, with violist Roger Tapping. For an exceptionally reasonable ticket price, FAES presents many good concerts and, not infrequently, excellent ones like these.

For their final program, the group left the other late Mozart quintet, in D major, K. 593. It has an unusual first movement, in which a sphnixian, harmonically adventurous Larghetto section frames the Allegro. Mozart was experimenting at this point in his career with how far he could push tonal structures, and the Adagio also has a section in which extended harmonies give an almost modern character. The Auryn Quartett and Tapping played the Menuetto tenderly, with the odd pizzicato Trio made to stand out. They also allowed the weird finale theme -- "corrected" in the manuscript by hands other than Mozart's, changes that were not undone until musicologist Ernst Hess's 1960-61 article -- to ramble away to its slightly nutty conclusion.

Auryn Quartett:

available at Amazon
Britten Quartets 2 /3 (1996)
The three concerts allowed the Britten quartets to unfold in the order in which they were composed. The second, played last week, is usually my favorite, but the third, op. 94 (a twilight work, related closely to Britten's final opera, the disturbing Death in Venice), is often in competition for the honor. In this strong rendition, notes rose up from the dissonant texture of the first movement (Duets), seemingly unrelated until they came together in the concluding, glassy cluster. The slow, dissonant third movement, played here with trance-like poise even when cellist Andreas Arndt made his instrument meow like a cat, is the most uncompromising movement in all three Britten quartets. This difficult quality is reinforced by the short, vigorous fourth movement, where the viola shrieks of Steuart Eaton recalled Shostakovich. It was good to see most copies of the Auryn Quartett's Britten quartets CD get bought up at intermission: the group converted some listeners to the Britten quartets.

Auryn Quartett / FAES:

Part One | Part Two
Inevitably, the Mozart cycle had to end, too, and the group elected to close with the C major quintet, K. 515. Even in the cheerfully played first-movement Allegro, there was a wistful air to this great work, the companion of my favorite quintet, K. 516, played on the first concert. The Andante movement features a prominent solo role for the first viola, played with a tuneful, long line by Steuart Eaton. The meandering Menuetto theme and its chromatic Trio counterpart, which oscillates back and forth, received a gentle performance. The reason to close the cycle with this quintet became evident with the last movement, which has such a chipper theme. Taken at an impressively brisk tempo, well played and bursting with energy, it was precisely the right way to end this exemplary series of concerts. After words of thanks from cellist Andreas Arndt, we were given one last bit of Mozart, the slow movement from the E-flat quintet, K. 614. In their first performance of it, the previous Sunday, the piece seemed slightly empty, but this time it made a sweet, profound epilogue.

One concert remains on this season's schedule from FAES, an all-Beethoven recital by cellist Amit Peled and pianist Alon Goldstein (April 15, 4 pm). For next year's season, FAES has decided to scale back the number of concerts, but there are some very exciting events planned. In the fall/winter, pianists Richard Goode (October 14, 4 pm) and Alain Planès (December 9, 3 pm) will give recitals, which are both events to be marked on the calendar now.

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