(This article has been corrected since initial publication.)
G. Onslow, String Quartets,
L. Janáček, String Quartets,
It was good to hear a lesser Schubert string quartet opening this concert, the seventh quartet (D major, D. 94). It is not a work of exceptional merit like the composer's mature quartets, but it has flashes of inspiration, as in the second theme of the first movement, and shows an admirable grasp of the classical forms it uses -- quite remarkable when you realize Schubert was all of 14 years old when he composed it. The musicians seemed generally less comfortable in this sort of music, with first violinist Yun-Peng Zhao a little scratchy and small of tone when he was exposed in the high range: having to play through his glasses falling off his face at the end of the fourth movement was no help. The second movement benefited from a sweet, tender interpretative approach, while the Menuetto had a pleasing, rustic swagger and a pompous stateliness in the trio -- all of it over before you knew it. The fourth movement (Presto) was impressively energetic but not quite aligned across the ensemble in terms of intonation or rhythmic precision.
This was the latest in a series of performances of Beethoven's op. 131, one of the most strange and wonderful of the composer's late quartets -- heard recently from the Takács Quartet and the Emerson Quartet before that. The Diotima brought an irresistible suavity and subdued mystery to the opening fugue, not hammering any of the articulations, even soft-pedaling the second note of the subject, which sticks out like a sore thumb. Likewise, the recitative sections had the free feeling of improvisation, and the meaty variations and slow movement were treated with the ensemble's hallmark delicacy, subtlety, and warm intensity. Less felicitous were the renditions of the fast, more strident parts, various parts slightly akimbo in the fifth-movement Presto and rough dotted rhythms in the final movement. There was much to admire and set the mind to thought, but not quite an ideal performance.
Robert Battey, Ambitious Quatuor Diotima can’t quite carry complex program (Washington Post, April 16)
The next free concerts at the Library of Congress will feature Juilliard Baroque (April 14, 8 pm) and Concerto Köln (April 20, 8 pm).