Taking on Beethoven


Beethoven's String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Opus 131 is one of his final contributions to Western music and considered among his greatest achievements. It's also one of his most personal pieces, and monumentally challenging to bring off.

Yesterday's performance of the work by the Baltimore String Quartet in Westminster Hall was the highlight of a concert which included Mozart's String Quartet in G Major, K. 387 (one of six dedicated to Joseph Haydn) and the String Quartet No. 9 in G Minor by an 18-year-old Franz Schubert (posthumously published).

The quartet takes an orderly approach in shaping its interpretations.

Sometimes these understated interpretations neutralize the full explication of musical ideas. In the quartet's account of the opening movement of the Mozart, for instance, a lack of rhythmic give-and-take and incisiveness was apparent.

At its best -- as in the serene slow movement in the Beethoven -- the approach makes for a remarkably crystalline depiction of the music's structure that is persuasive.

The quartet seemed most convincing when its interpretations partook of both intellectual rigor and unpredictable nuance. Accordingly, its performance of the Mozart's slow movement was exemplary in its communion between musicians, and the dramatic finale to the Beethoven was a powerful tour de force.

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