Arcanto Quartet: Works by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Berg - Chan Center, October 17, 2010

Arcanto Quartet

Arcanto Quartet

It can be difficult sometimes when four young soloists with careers of their own come together to form a string quartet. Fortunately, in the case of the Arcanto Quartet, problems are few. Soloists they may be, but they play selflessly and cooperatively as ‘friends’. Young they are, but they play with a maturity and wisdom beyond their years. The familiar face is the violist Tabea Zimmerman, who gave a distinguished recital with the VRS year or two ago. (Her Shostakovich sonata performance still resonates in the memory!) The leader, violinist Antje Weithaas, is a particularly intelligent and sensitive artist; all four contribute to a full, yet refined, European sound. This is the ensemble’s first North American tour. 

The opening Mozart Quartet in D minor, K.421 is one of the most pathos-laden of his ‘Haydn’ Quartets. This was given a very articulate reading, beautifully detailed and paying obvious attention to the ‘bowing’ style of Mozart’s period. If anything, the performance was just slightly on the sober side, underplaying some of the more dramatic tensions in the work, especially in the final movement. Perhaps the musicians were just getting warmed up!

There can be absolutely no qualifications about the performance of the Mendelssohn String Quartet, Op. 80, which was about as fine as I can imagine. This is one of the composer’s last works (composed after the death of his sister) and it is difficult to bring off, being so impassioned on one hand and so terse and densely-written on the other. The Arcanto Quartet found just the right tempo to bring balance and clarity to the writing, expositing this work with a rare coherence and simplicity. There was exactly the right type of motion and drama in the first and last movements, and I have seldom heard the ‘rushing’ rhythms of the second movement played with such natural fluency. I should remark on the sheer beauty of some of the individual tone colours, which surfaced as the work progressed. 

It is perhaps a big jump to Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite (1925), so the cellist, Jean-Guihen Queyras, took time to explain and illustrate this work before its performance. What he emphasized is just how personal and expressive this composition is in spite of its difficult twelve-tone construction, and just how much variety it has in its six movements. I thought this was a most committed performance, weaving together the human and abstract dimensions of the work with playing of both concentration and sensitivity. 

The quality and intelligence of the music making at this concert was at a very high level. Let us hope that the Arcanto Quartet does stick together for the future. I think it will be a quartet to cherish. 

© Geoffrey Newman 2010