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Valentine from the Leipzig Quartet

Leipziger StreichquartettThe Leipzig String Quartet, founded by principal musicians of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, is a group to hear. Especially when they are presented, as they were on Tuesday night's Concordia D.C. series at the United Church in Foggy Bottom, in a free concert. The organizers, working with the German Embassy, are to be commended for inviting the group and for providing drinks at intermission, but in the future the intermission refreshments should be kept out of the performing space, as the noise of clanging bottles and movement was a maddening distraction throughout the performance. At one point it delayed the start of Schubert's delicate "Rosamunde" Quartet, as the musicians themselves looked, somewhat surprised, toward the clamor at the back of the sanctuary.

The Leipzigers are worth hearing in contemporary music, too, but it is the classical composers that are most up their alley. Haydn's op. 20/4 opened the concert with a glowing, resonant sound, soaring on the long notes at the start of the first movement and then winding up with energy, but not restless agitation, later. The slow movement was radiant and melancholy, especially in the variation that mostly excluded first violinist Stefan Arzberger, who disappointed with a few too many squeaks and squawks that night. The wrong-footed dance of misplaced accents enlivened the gypsy music-flavored third movement, with cellist Mathias Moosdorf in a graceful leading role in the trio, while an understated wit shook up the fast-moving finale.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Music review: Leipzig String Quartet (Washington Post, February 16)
The high point was reached with the exquisite soft opening of the Schubert quartet (D. 804), a rueful tone that made each return of the A theme a delight. The second movement, in which Schubert borrowed from his own incidental music for the play Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, may have been a tad too brisk in tempo, but here more than ever the true intonation and ensemble cohesion of this accomplished quartet distinguished this performance. All sorts of intricate details, in the second violin and viola, percolated just under the surface, allowing the important melodies to be heard. Even the decay of final chords, perfectly softened in volume and released into silence, was delicately placed. In the third movement, an ominous cello call unsettled the light-hearted dance with a sense of anxiety, a chilling motif that returns in the mostly sweet fourth movement. Lastly, while the Mendelssohn quartets may be neglected no longer, some of them do not convince me, even in a performance as athletic and well-defined as the Leipzig's rendition of op. 44/3. Technically, it sparkled in the fast movements, with the runs beautifully calculated and aligned, and had a lovely ardor in the slow movement. While the musicians hit all the marks, elucidating the forms, it just never thrilled, in spite of page after page of restless figuration.

The Concordia D.C. series continues with free concerts by the the Aliage Quartet (February 23), the Chamasyan Sisters (February 24), and pianist Sara Daneshpour (March 4), in the United Church (1920 G St. NW).

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