Ravel / Debussy / Dutilleux
Bartók, String Quartets 5/6
Mozart, String Quartet in d, K. 421
Ravel, String Quartet in F Major
The heart of the program was a glowing, vibrant rendition of Ravel's gorgeous F major quartet, featuring some of the best viola playing, from Tabea Zimmermann, heard at the Library of Congress from any group. The first movement alternated between whitewater turbulence and the quasi-orgasmic cry of the piece's pervasive main theme. The pizzicati of the second movement were deliberate, giving the full center of each plucked note, and the soft slow section and third movement were even quieter and more expressive than on the recording. With the audience lulled to drowsy quiescence after the third movement, wry smiles from the players forecast the particularly savage attack they gave to the opening of the fourth movement, featuring seamless and natural shifts between contrasting meters.
The opening Mozart quartet was no less beautiful, K. 421, a rare quartet by this composer in a minor key. Why did this piece, dismissed for various unexciting qualities by Norman Middleton in the program notes, make it onto the Arcanto Quartet's wish list (described by cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras in a recent interview)? The answer is that it is a gorgeous piece, and its beauty was revealed so well by this performance, from the opening sigh motif of the first movement, the shadow of an interior thought, later passed around the four instruments in the development. The second movement's stillness had a pulse of vitality running through it, and little embellishments added on the repeats of the fourth movement's variations provided further diversion.
Stephen Brookes, The Arcanto Quartet, sharp as nails in U.S. debut (Washington Post, October 15)
This evening the Library of Congress is one of the stops on the U.S. tour of The English Concert (October 14, 8 pm), with violinist Rachel Podger and mezzo-soprano Alice Coote.