Elias String Quartet gives energized program
Special to the Daily News
Ludwig van Beethoven’s image as a moody composer struggling with his fate is so ingrained in our collective unconscious that one easily forgets his lighter side. In fact, well-humored pieces were written throughout his career, even in his mature period.
Unfortunately, those works do not receive enough attention from performers, who prefer to explore his deeply emotional creations.
One, then, must applaud, the Elias String Quartet’s refreshing program, which was presented Sunday at The Society of the Four Arts .
Hailing from England, the young foursome started the afternoon with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4. As typical of the composer’s middle period, the work presents many moments of heroic intensity, especially in the first movement. But there also are many well-humored instances, which seem to come right out of opera buffa.
The Elias quartet brought forth the theatrical elements in the piece, giving a rendition full of wit and unexpected turns of phrase. From the first measures, one could hear the ensemble’s emphasis on transparency over a more “orchestral” approach. Thus, if sometimes a forte or two were not loud enough, they were compensated by a refreshing clarity of contrapuntal lines.
That was particularly relevant in the sole work of the second part, Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10. Seldom has the first movement of that work sounded so intricate. In fact, the Elias quartet’s attention to minute details revealed countermelodies that often get drowned in lusher readings.
The ensemble also impressed in its rendition of Sally Beamish’s String Quartet No. 3 (Reed Stanzas), a hauntingly beautiful new work that successfully blends elements of Scottish folk music with the timbral experiments one associates with musical avant-garde. The ensemble’s performance of this extended and complicated work went beyond the typical concession young artists give to new music at the beginning of their careers.
There is no question that the Elias String Quartet will become well established. One can only hope that, as that happens, the quartet will continue to promote new music. After all, that is how classical music will be able to remain alive and relevant, just like in past times.
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