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10.11.09

Fine Arts Quartet Plays It Close to the Chest

We welcome this review from guest contributor Sophia Vastek (with apologies for omitting this acknowledgment at the time of publication!).

Sunday afternoon, the Fine Arts Quartet presented a program as part of the National Academy of Sciences concert series. It seemed altogether fitting for a group whose members appeared to wear the same exact black suit, however sharp, and never smiled. The program matched Haydn’s Quartet in B flat (op. 76, no. 4, “Sunrise”) with Bruckner’s Quartet in C minor and Schumann’s Quartet in A minor (op. 41, no. 1). Of a completely Austro-German bent, the Fine Arts Quartet was a perfect vessel of austere 19th-century emotion. Incredibly proficient in every technical aspect, the group exemplified the single mindset mantra of the string quartet idiom, and they played beautifully together. Even so, for such a talented group of musicians, the concert was entirely lackluster.

Beginning with the first movement of the Haydn, the Fine Arts Quartet immediately showcased their ability to communicate effortlessly with one another. The melodic lines moved as one voice from instrument to instrument with buoyancy and an ever-careful, light touch. As appropriate as their style was to the classical work, upon reaching the Menuetto, the sound had already gone stale. It is Haydn after all, and the work demands its performers to have fun, but the third movement had no audible or visual traces of being a dance. The music was square. One wanted the performers to loosen up in the slightest and move their bodies to prove to the audience that they were feeling at least some enjoyment, but without avail. The piece altogether lacked any trace of Haydn’s ubiquitous wit.


Other Reviews:

Alex Baker, Fine Arts Quartet at NAS (Wellsung, November 9)
Following the Haydn, Bruckner’s string quartet seemed but an extension of the previous work. It is not a piece one hears very often, and for good reason. It is as if Bruckner took a page out of every previous study-worthy composer’s book on quartets and form and style, and then simply laid out those pages. On top of that, the Fine Arts Quartet did not even attempt to differentiate it from the Haydn stylistically, however difficult that may have been given the music. It was not until the scherzo of the Schumann that the musicians finally proved that they were capable of something other than a filigreed, classical sound. The scherzo was fueled by rhythmic energy, and the embedded intermezzo had true lyric beauty. Sadly, this spark of life was a one-time occurrence. Even the closing presto was calculated and lacked the kind of abandon that would make for an exciting finish.

According to its Web site, the National Academy of Sciences will not be hosting concerts for the rest of the season in its own auditorium. Its planned schedule is now going to be moved to the National Gallery of Art's concert series, with the next concert by the Ritz Chamber Players planned for February 14, 2010, at 6:30 pm.

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