Tetzlaff Quartet brings patrician virtuosity to FOCM debut

By Lawrence Budmen

The Tetzlaff Quartet performed Tuesday night in Pinecrest for Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: Georgia Bertazzi

The distinctive sound of the Tetzlaff Quartet and the diverse Viennese impulses of Haydn, Webern and Schubert made for a memorable chamber music feast Tuesday night at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest. 

In its debut for Friends of Chamber Music, the group proved exceptional with fastidious execution and depth of interpretive insight. Led by violinist Christian Tetzlaff, one of the finest virtuosos on the contemporary concert stage, the quartet consistently resounds as a single unit, so tight and exact is its ensemble and phrasing. Three of the players, including Tetzlaff, play modern instruments made by lutherer Peter Greiner which clearly contributes to their unique sonority. (Tanja Tetzlaff, the violinist’s sister, plays a 1776 Guadagnini cello.) It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Tetzlaff’s colleagues are his equal in musicianship and depth of expression.

Written in 1772, Haydn’s Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, no. 5 is both a gracious exemplar of the Classical period and a harbinger of the drama and struggle to come with the quartets of Beethoven a quarter century later. There is darkness and tension beneath the courtly charms of Haydn’s opus and the Tetzlaff foursome brought that undercurrent to the fore. While the tonal gleam and blend of the playing was clearly evident, each instrument’s role emerged with total clarity. The trio section of the Minuetto was infused with charm in contrast to the agitated outer sections. Long songful lines in the Adagio were given almost operatic dimensions. Violist Hanna Weinmeister produced a rounded and rich sound. In the fugal episodes of the finale, the interplay of instruments was emphatic and cleanly articulated. 

Anton Webern’s Five Movements, Op. 5 (conceived in 1909) is an artifact of a new musical language. Arnold Schoenberg, Webern’s teacher, had begun his journey into atonality and Webern followed his path while pushing its boundaries. Typically for Webern, the score’s five vignettes are terse and constricted. Beneath the atonal gauze, Viennese dance melodies occasionally make a brief appearance. Although brief, these miniatures are treacherously difficult to play and bring off. 

The opening “Heftig hewegt” gave Tetzlaff a chance to display his bravura violin technique. A moody “Sehr langsam” offered violinist Elizabeth Kufferath and Weinmeister an opportunity to duet to luminous effect. “Sehr hewegt” brought an astringent, breathless dance macabre. An eerie night music (fourth movement) prefigures Bartok, and the players sustained its pensive aura, with soft playing of near inaudibility. The whispered fragmentary motifs of the final movements could easily accompany a horror flick. The entire performance displayed the score with x-ray precision, meeting every challenge and then some.

Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”) may be standard chamber repertoire but there was nothing routine about the player’ traversal. From the initial vigorous attack, the first movement was taken at a fierce tempo. The driving momentum never ceased and the blending of textures was seamless. The principal theme of the Andante con moto is the Schubert song from which the work takes its name. Taken at a very slow pace and with nuanced gradations of volume, the starkness and tragedy of Schubert’s lied was given emphatic weight. Each of the variations were assayed with characterful individuality, the fast section overwhelming in its sustained intensity. 

Sharp accents and whirlwind figurations brought the Scherzo to invigorating life. Maintaining a steady pulse, the musicians avoided the temptation to overdrive the climactic flourishes of the concluding Presto. Organically gathering burnished strength and cumulative power, the performance culminated in a triumphant coda.

A standing, cheering ovation brought a high voltage encore – the Allegro non assai from Brahms’ Quartet No. 2 in A minor. The Tetzlaff Quartet’s patrician artistry represents chamber music at its highest level. Their future engagements are eagerly awaited.

Friends of Chamber Music presents the Diaz Trio, 3 p.m. May 22 at the FIU Wertheim Auditorium in Miami.   miamichambermusic.org

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Wed Apr 27, 2022
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