Sunday, April 13, 2014

Heights Arts Close Encounters: Amici Quartet - Beethoven's Famous Last Quartets

Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135
[The Amici Quartet: Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for Takako Masame, violin; Miho Hashiume, violin; Lynn Ramsey, viola; Ralph Curry, cello]
At the Barrie Carriage House, Cleveland Heights. 

Cleveland Heights poet laureate Kathleen Cerveny opened this spring afternoon concert with readings of poetry from E.E. Cummings and Ohio poet Mary Oliver before turning the stage over to the "Amaci Quartet Minus One, Plus One" as cellist Ralph Curry introduced the ensemble -- with Cleveland Orchestra associate concertmaster Jung-Min Amy Lee substituting for injured-on-tour quartet member Takako Masame.

The program took a longer form than may normally be expected, starting with Beethoven's seven movement 41-minute String Quartet -- though  despite the longer-than-typical running time and twice as many movements as the typical piece, time seemed to fly, though the piece was generally somber, particularly in the earlier movements and the pained searching opening notes, though as the piece progressed the mood improved to an energetic, almost galloping passage that seemed a bit like trying to catch a wild animal. This was certainly a piece where I found myself just closing my eyes and enjoying the sounds of the impassioned playing of professional musicians.

It was particularly interesting to me as I don't believe I've heard Ms. Ramsey or Mr. Curry play in such an intimate setting before, and I always relish the opportunity to hear fine musicians, and particularly the members of The Cleveland Orchestra, in a more intimate setting.

Following intermission, the shorter but still substantial String Quartet No. 16 concluded the afternoon's performance. In his remarks before the piece, Mr. Curry indicated that despite being a stressful time in Beethoven's life -- including a major illness and serving as guardian for his incorrigible nephew -- this piece had a sunnier disposition generally. On whole, though, the piece struck me as only slightly brighter than the prior quartet, with much of that energy in the second movement (vivace). The third movement (Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo) though had a almost mass-like mourning hymn, and the fourth movement -- featuring a "question" and "answer" in the notations, and with increasing intensity of discourse between the violins and lower strings.


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