Ysaye Quartet shows aristocratic elegance at the Colony Theater

By Lawrence Budmen

The Ysaye Quartet performed Tuesday night at the Colony Theater. Photo: Gerard Rondeau

The Ysaye Quartet is the quintessential European chamber ensemble, emphasizing warmth of expression, strongly cohesive ensemble playing and relaxed, expansive performances.

String quartets by Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms comprised the quartet’s program for Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. Once the home of the New World Symphony’s chamber concerts, the theater is an acoustically friendly space for small ensembles and the Ysaye’s mellow sound emerged clear and resonant.

The quartet’s aristocratic brand of music-making was ideally suited to Schubert’s Quartet in B-flat Major, the program’s centerpiece. While vividly capturing Schubert’s pensive lyricism, the players did not slight the score’s dramatic contrasts of mood and dynamics. For all the finely spun songful lines of the opening movement, the surging undercurrents were strongly delineated. The Andante sostenuto was tinged with pathos, vividly conveyed in a deeply moving performance of one of Schubert’s finest slow movements. There was high-spirited verve in the Menuetto, with the silky sound of first violin Guillaume Sutre taking command in the contrasted trio section. The final Presto lived up to its name, the wit and vivacity of Schubert’s finale taking flight.

Brahms’ String Quartet No. 2 in A minor was a favorite score of Arnold Schoenberg, the father of atonal music admiring the adventurous harmonic and thematic complexity of this work. Capping the concert with this fascinating masterpiece, the players did full justice to the score’s melodic riches, formidable invention and expressive power. Violist Miguel da Silva took an unusually prominent and forward role, drawing out the unmoored harmonies of the opening movement and the mystery of the Quasi Minuetto. In the serene Andante, the musicians gave due weight to Brahms’ unexpected changes of mood and pulse, and a charging, incisive traversal of the finale took the Allegro non assai marking at face value.

The concert opened with an appropriately sunny and spirited performance of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 3 in D Major. This effusive, ingenuous creation of the 30-year-old Beethoven was stylishly projected by the players. Even in this early work, intimations of the Beethoven to come dot the musical landscape.

Stormy eruptions in the development section of the opening movement both surprised and delighted in the Ysaye’s bright, finely articulated performance. A vibrant Andante preceded a scherzo tossed off with lightness and panache. The final Presto is filled with surprises and the players enlivened Beethoven’s sudden twists and flights that lead in unexpected direction. Rhythmically alert and precise, the quartet captured Beethoven’s humorous gear shifts, right down to the soft conclusion, a musical joke worthy of Papa Haydn.

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Wed Feb 29, 2012
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