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Date 15 February 2005 at 20.00 Venue The Vancouver Playhouse

Reviewer J. H. Stape


 

THE BRENTANO STRING QUARTET

Mozart Quartet in A major, K. 464 Webern Quartet for Strings, Op. 28 Mendelssohn Quartet in F minor, Op. 80

First Violin Mark Steinberg Second Violin Serena Canin Viola Misha Amory Cello Nina Maria Lee


Emerson Quartet
The Brentano Quartet

This concert by the youthful Brentano String Quartet was a display of finely honed technique coming slightly at the expense of musicality. As pianist Artur Rubenstein observed in old age: 'I may not have all the notes, but I have all the music." The Brentano had the notes down to a "T," coming fully to life in the Mendelssohn, which they gave an impassioned reading in a programme that emphasized extreme contrasts.

Mozart's A major quartet, K. 464 (1785) was, as it were, the "Smile of Reason" set to music: poised, refined, graceful but somewhat lifeless and perhaps too calculating aside from the third movement's themes and variations. This was the overly genteel, facile music-box Mozart that would send Glenn Gould into fits of dismissive rage. All this serenity and delicacy got technically polished playing , a bright sound and taut control over the dynamics. But all said, as a member of the audience observed, "Mozart can be dull."

Webern, by contrast, tried overly hard not to be, and the quartet on offer was like a calculus problem set to music: knotty, demanding, relentlessly cerebral. The neurotic anti-emotionalism and fragmentariness suits our time better than Mozart's gracile harmonies, but first violinist Mark Steinberg found it necessary to offer an apologia in the hope that the audience might hug this cold, discordant music to its breast. The apologia wasn't, however, necessary: the music was urgent and terribly compelling and precisely played.

 

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Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn's Quartet in F minor, written in 1847 after his sister's death, was yet another shift of gears, plunging the listeners from high Modernism back to the emotional complexities and lush musical textures of late-Romanticism.

From its attempt to escape the confines of the quartet form to its exuberant and dramatic close, this sweeping music drew from The Brentano the evening's most distinguished performance. The dark depths and sorrow of the adagio movement got full value, the elegant pining and nostalgia touching delicately on nerves still raw, while the almost gypsy-like fiddling required at the end of the opening allegro vivace was finely turned.

A madrigal by an Italian baroque composer (name swallowed when announced) provided an odd encore: the last movement of the Mendelssohn would have been a better temperamental choice, but this showed again the evening's strengths and weaknesses: the notes were all firmly in place, but technical prowess aside, The Brentano String still refused to sing.

2005 J. H. Stape


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