Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 21, 2012

The Daedalus Quartet

Close Encounters with Music
Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
May 19, 2012
by Michael J. Moran

Introducing this impressive concert by the Daedalus Quartet, CEWM Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani compared the opening piece, Berg’s 1910 “Quartet,” to Kafka in its “opacity,” or “absence of clear rhythmic patterns.” But this rising young American ensemble found clarity and sensuality in both movements of the lush atonal score. Their riveting account highlighted how modern the works by Schubert and Beethoven also on this program must have sounded to their first audiences.

The Schubert was the “Quartettsatz,” which he wrote in 1820 as the opening movement of a twelfth string quartet that he never finished. The technical precision and dramatic momentum of the Daedalus performance were especially remarkable because both second violinist Matilda Kaul and cellist Thomas Kraines only joined the quartet within the past year. They meshed with co-founding first violinist Min-Young Kim and longtime violist Jessica Thompson as if they had all played together much longer.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the first of Beethoven’s three “Razumovsky” quartets, commissioned in 1806 by the Russian ambassador in Vienna. As evidence of this quartet’s “heroic” stature, Hanani cited the “grand proportions” of the first movement, which encompasses four octaves in its opening measures. He called the second movement “the most original scherzo Beethoven ever wrote” and the third movement “unmatched in its sorrow and heartbreaking emotion.” Even its extended length (40 minutes) sets this quartet apart from all prior quartets by any composer, including Beethoven.

The Daedalus rendition of all four movements was thrilling, including the sudden transition from the quiet third movement to the exuberant Russian theme quoted at the outset of the lively finale in honor of Count Razumovsky. Each of the four musicians played expressively in both solo and ensemble work, and they maintained a transparent balance through lyrical and agitated passages alike. The consistent intensity of their playing earned the Quartet an enthusiastic and well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the evening.

Hanani’s perceptive and entertaining commentary could have been usefully supplemented by brief notes about the music in the concert program book.