String Quartet in F minor, Op.80
String Quartet No.2, Op.26
String Quartet in G, D887
Artemis Quartet [Vineta Sareika & Gregor Sigl (violins), Friedemann Weigle (viola) & Eckart Runge (cello)]
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 17 March, 2013
Venue: Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Mendelssohn’s F minor String Quartet was written in 1847 in the aftermath of his sister Fanny’s death and completed only a few weeks before his own passing. Henry Chorley, a contemporary of the composer’s, called the piece “one of the most impassioned outpourings of sadness existing in instrumental music”. The Artemis Quartet sublimely portrayed the intensity of Felix’s bereavement. The musicians’ placement, the upper strings standing, the cellist seated on a podium, and the violist facing directly towards the audience, skewed the balance towards the lower strings that propelled the performance with huge sound. Vineta Sareika expertly produced sudden changes in tone from brilliant to warm, all the while maintaining emotional intensity. The relentless pathos continued throughout the second movement, with the ensemble smoothly integrated. Inner voices were emphasized in the Adagio, though Sareika did not hold back. The players’ nuances were so unified that it was hard to believe Sareika only joined the group in 2012. In the finale, the tone of Friedemann Weigle’s viola remarkably outshone the violinists. Passion kept building in the final passages, the players forcefully united in their détaché bowing.
Alberto Ginastera’s Second String Quartet marks a transition away from his nationalist style influenced by Argentinean folk music and towards modernist tendencies. Despite ample dissonance the work’s Latin roots are evident from the abundance of syncopated rhythms and ardent emotionality. In the opening movement angry and forceful tremolo bowing created a mood surprisingly similar to the preceding Mendelssohn. The second movement begins with an anguished viola solo; Weigle displayed his radiant timbre in the instrument’s upper register. The following Presto magico is a deranged scherzo, the emotion lighter but still sinister. The players showcased impressive technical feats. The slower fourth movement was less cohesive despite impassioned execution, and the finale, Furioso, strays into jazzy melodies and percussive spiccato bowing making the instruments sound like electric guitars.
Schubert’s G major String Quartet was his last, written two years before his death in 1828 and never performed in its entirety in his lifetime. In the opening movement, there were liberal tempo fluctuations, drawing out the slower themes and picking up the pace in the development. The phrasing always had meaningful direction, the dialogue between first violin and cello seemed particularly sincere, and richness of tone was undiminished across a wide range of dynamics. Eckart Runge played with elegant simplicity in the slow movement, each repetition of the theme sounding slightly different, and the major-key ending represented a total affective shift from intensity to serenity. The scherzo showcased the contrasting lightness and seriousness of mood, at times simultaneously. Sareika’s impeccable intonation was notable in the high arpeggio passages of the finale, the players recapturing the initial temperamental intensity in a thrillingly triumphant ending.