After forty-five seasons of touring, the Guarneri String Quartet is gracefully closing shop. To mark their final Kennedy Center performance Tuesday evening, the Quartet’s renowned original cellist, David Soyer, made a special appearance in the second half of the program, to join in playing Schubert’s Quintet in C major for two cellos, viola, and two violins.
Arnold Steinhardt, Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony (1998)
The Guarneri these days is somewhat like an old car that takes a while to warm up and enjoys familiar roads. For example, in the first half, the robustness of Beethoven’s Quartet in A Minor, op. 132, was not evident until well into the work, while details often seemed a bit approximated, perhaps due to an abundance of slow, wide vibrato which did now allow the tonality to fully lock into place. Yet, in fairness, the patient listener was rewarded by other loving moments during a work that tells a long story. Perhaps the quartet’s January 2008 Kennedy Center performance contained a much greater sense of energy due to its non-warhorse program of Bartók, Haydn, and Smetana.
With the addition of a fifth line and second cello, the bass foundation in Schubert’s Quintet in C major was indeed robust. Cellist David Soyer provided the lowest lines, while Peter Wiley, who replaced Soyer in 2001, added viola-like inner lines. It was heart-warming to see the musical rapport between Soyer and first violinist Arnold Steinhardt, which led to a precise reading of the work. Much in contrast to Radu Lupu’s indulgently personalized -- read Romanticized -- interpretation of Schubert’s Sonata in B-Flat last Sunday at Shriver Hall, the Guarneri’s more restrained, subtle approach to Schubert paid off. The phrasing in the first movement was gently nuanced, while the third-movement Scherzo was heroic and bright. Fortunately, the botched transition into a brisker tempo for the final movement’s coda was quickly forgiven, as the musicians were soon showered with thunderous applause and a long, reverent ovation.
Anne Midgette, Guarneri's Poignant, If Flawed, Farewell (Washington Post, February 12)
The next major event at the Terrace Theater is tonight's appearance by the renowned British vocal quartet the Hilliard Ensemble (February 12, 7:30 pm), in a program combining Lassus's Requiem Mass with motets by Lassus and Palestrina. Not to be missed -- and tickets remain.