Mozart: String Quartet in D Minor, K. 421
Berg: Lyric Suite
Sibelius: String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 56 (“Voces Intimae”)
Having had the pleasure to hear Christian Tetzlaff early October at Carnegie Hall with the Met orchestra, where he brilliantly performed Brahms' magnificent violin concerto, I felt doubly lucky getting to hear him again Friday evening in very different circumstances: his chamber music quartet was scheduled to perform Mozart, Berg and Sibelius in the wonderful Coolidge auditorium of the Library of Congress. This time he was accompanied by three young ladies, the cellist being his sister, whose chops turned out to be as impressive as his. Quite an exceptional group for quite an exceptional concert.
The first piece by Mozart was as lovely as could be expected, all polish and refinement. I didn’t think the composition had anything really exceptional to it (its particularity being that he wrote it while his wife was delivering their first child), but it was a nice start.
Berg’s 12-tone string quartet, on the other hand, is atonal chamber music at its very best. Each movement was intensely evocative of the illicit love affair that was their original inspiration. It all started with fierce, youthful ardor to end up with the viola’s few last notes of dark gloom. The other moods qualified of “amorous”, with swooning romanticism, “mysterious”, emphasized by a suspenseful pizzicato, “passionate”, accompanied by ardent playing, and “delirious”, with all the strident anguish that comes with it. A further study of the program explained that numbers that had a special meaning to Berg and his beloved Hannah govern the formal proportions and metronome markings, but this type of information is not necessary at all to appreciate the emotional richness of that piece. We did not get to hear the singing that sometimes complements the last movement, but the quartet was in fine form and beautifully depicted the various stages of this emotional roller-coaster.
I’m not sure how I got to be doubly lucky twice, but the last piece of the concert was by Sibelius whose Symphony No 2 I had just heard the night before. Friday night I got to hear the only string quartet he’s ever written, and it was unquestionably a lesson in beautiful and complex brooding. Written while he was going through a period of his life plagued by health, money and depression issues, this is a sometimes crying-out-loud sometimes intimate testimony of his all too real suffering. A break-neck speed ending concluded the piece, and the concert, with a feeling of pain being finally released.