MIAMI STRING QUARTET TRANSCENDENT IN BEETHOVEN
By Lawrence Budmen
The 15 string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven are monuments of the chamber music literature. From the Haydn inspired melodies of the early quartets (Haydn was one of Beethoven's teachers) to the experimental dissonance of the final masterpieces, Beethoven was at his most inspired when writing for four string players. The middle period quartets occupy particularly fertile musical ground in the composer's output. Two of those masterworks were featured in the concert by the Miami String Quartet on May 25, 2003 at the Omni Colonnade Hotel, part of the Mainly Mozart Festival presented by the Coral Gables Cultural Affairs Council.
The "String Quartet in F Minor," Opus 95 ("Serioso") is one of Beethoven's most striking compositional statements. Written in 1810, this quartet is one of the composer's most concise works. Yet the sheer drama and emotional power contained in its pages are larger than life. Romantic passion seems to burst forth at every instant, belying the score's four movement classical conventions. The brilliant players of the Miami Quartet (Ivan Chan and Cathy Meg Robinson, violins; Chauncey Patterson, viola; and Keith Robinson, cello) attacked the opening Allegro con brio with gusto. Every bar was imbued with high drama and maximum intensity of utterance. The Allegretto ma non troppo was filled with deft transitions of phrase and strongly characterized thematic transformations. Every subtle nuance was projected with clarity and definition. Beneath this imaginative music making, there was a wonderful feeling of serenity. The pure, silvery tones of Chang and Meg Robinson's violins were beautifully partnered by Patterson's velvet toned viola and Robinson's warmly resonant cello. The Allegro assai vivace ma serioso was brilliantly articulated, emphasizing the music's dark emotions. The concluding Allegretto agitato was played at a fierce clip. There was fiery passion and dramatic intensity in every bar. The quartet's intonation and ensemble playing were superb - a great chamber music performance!
The "String Quartet in F Major," Opus 59, No.1 ("Razumovsky") - composed in 1806 - represents Beethoven in a more expansive frame of mind. This large scale work is filled with exquisite details and creative imagination. The Miami Quartet delivered a performance worthy of the music's greatness. Robinson led off the first movement Allegro with a soaring cello solo that seemed to sing from the instrument with baritonal warmth and beauty. The entire movement was played as one seamless, elongated aria - full of romantic beauty. The ensemble captured the profundity that lies beneath surface of the Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando. The Adagio molto e mesto was deeply moving. Playing of such purity and rapt intensity is rare indeed. The concluding Theme Russe was all high spirited virtuosity. The group's instrumental brilliance was dazzling.
The program opened with the "String Quartet in D Major," Opus 20, No.4 by Franz Joseph Haydn - a score that abounds with melodic inspiration and musical wit. A real sense of classical style marked the quartet's playing of the Allegro di molto. The second movement Un poco adagio e affetuoso was grandly elegant. There was plenty of gypsy fire in the Menuet alla Zingarese. The concluding Presto e scherzando was delivered with verve and sparkle. Here "Papa Haydn" was smiling all the way - aided by the effervescence of the quartet's performance.
One week earlier (May 11) the Miami Quartet offered a superb performance of one of Mozart's final masterpieces at the Mainly Mozart series. The "String Quartet in F Major," K.590 dates from 1790 - the composer's penultimate year. Like all his late works, this music sings in a passionate, dramatic voice beneath a coolly classical surface. The Miami foursome captured the music's drama, melodic beauty, and wistfulness in equal measure. The "String Quartet," Opus 11 (1936) by Samuel Barber is best known for its central Molto adagio. In the composer's string orchestral version this work is known as the "Adagio for Strings" - a 20th century classic. The Miami players proved that the quartet version is far superior. Every musical line is clear and precise - especially when played with the luminous beauty and eloquence of the Miami Quartet. The quartet also offered a full bodied, intense performance of the spirited, melodic "String Quartet in G Minor," Opus 27 by Edvard Grieg.
The Miami String Quartet has recently been appointed quartet in residence at the Hartt School of Music (in Hartford, Connecticut), one of America's leading conservatory. In this position they succeed the famed Emerson String Quartet. They were the resident quartet at Florida International University. The Miami foursome are great musicians and can stand with the best quartets worldwide. Their beautiful Mozart playing and transcendent Beethoven performances made these concerts truly great musical events.