Amici Quartet surmounts Beethoven’s complexity
Somewhere in space, about eight billion miles from Earth, are two gold-plated records, which include Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130. NASA put them aboard two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977.
Perhaps NASA should have waited for a recording by the Amici String Quartet, which performed Op.130 brilliantly Thursday evening at Coral Gables Congregational Church. The ensemble, comprised of Cleveland Orchestra members, paired Beethoven’s quartet with Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade, which opened the short program.
The seven-minute work, written in the span of only three days in May 1887, touches on a rarely visited genre for Wolf. The composer more often wrote art songs and was, at the time, involved in setting lieder to the romantic German writer, Joseph von Eichendorff. Written in G major, the piece starts with a few measures of what sounds like tuning, and some unwelcome E flats before breaking into a sweeping melody.
Violinists Takako Masame and Miho Hashizume gave the Serenade a sweet sound, quite the feat with a piece in which the melody can seem dry at times. The musicians kept the piece’s odd tempo under control and played the piece with vigor, showing excellent control during the diminuendos and crescendos. Firm and precise pizzicatos by cellist Ralph Curry added a flavorful character in the piece’s middle section, the reprise of the introduction performed as strongly as its first statement.
Beethoven’s hour-long quartet mixes fast-paced movements with quick changes in dynamics, music made difficult by the widely varied themes in each of its six movements. At some points during the first movement, Masame later said, she and Hashizume felt their bows becoming loose threatening to throw them out of tune. A quick readjustment before the second movement, Presto, prevented that. The work’s fourth movement, appropriately titled Alla danza tedesca (like a German dance), was played by the quartet with a well-carried sway, with violist Lynne Ramsey, a strong presence.
But it was during the fifth movement, the somber Cavatina that the quartet left a lasting impression. It is said that Beethoven often wept while writing this piece, Curry noted to the audience, and the musicians clearly displayed the movement’s melancholy expression. The ensemble opted for Beethoven’s alternate final movement, rather than the epic Grosse Fuge, and played that fast-paced finale splendidly.
After the concert, Masame admitted that the quartet was unsure if they were ready to tackle Beethoven’s Op. 130, known for its complexity. “We thought, ‘We’re old and prepared enough now to do it,’ ” she said.
And prepared they were.
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Fri Apr 3, 2009
at 1:04 pm