String Quartet in C, Op.20/2
String Quartet No.4
String Quartet in A minor, Op.132
Tetzlaff Quartet [Christian Tetzlaff & Elisabeth Kufferath (violins), Hanna Weinmeister (viola) & Tanja Tetzlaff (cello)]
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 24 October, 2013
Venue: Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Joseph Haydn is the inventor of the string quartet form as we know it today and the inspiration for many later composers. Yet it often seems as if he is programmed as a mere appetizer. In Opus 20/2, the Tetzlaff Quartet defied this assumption with its sublime performance. Although these musicians do not play together frequently, each pursuing separate careers, their performance was superb. The Haydn was a complete joy, each line becoming part of a larger conversation. The emotional temperature was perfectly suited to the music, having utter seriousness while never sounding heavy.
Bartók was also an innovator of the quartet genre, particularly with regards to creating sonic newness. The Tetzlaff musicians created haunting pianissimos in the “nucleus” (as the composer termed it) central movement, drawing the listener into its introspective world. The movements of the “inner shell” were slick in their textural effects – the second having smoothly unified glissandos, the fourth having real dialogue in the pizzicatos. The outer ones were the least successful. Although the players’ tone was harsher, there was never the necessary ugliness to the sound, although the rhythmic driving of the finale kept it vibrant.
Beethoven’s Opus 132 also has the slow movement at its heart – a “sacred song of thanksgiving from a convalescent to the divinity” said Beethoven after he had recovered from severe illness. The Tetzlaff members brought quiet beauty and perfect intonation to it, breathing together in the hymn-like passages and creating a completely fresh atmosphere when the violins broke away for solos. These vast shifts of color occurred throughout the work, the performers often blending their contributions yet allowing for occasional voices to become oppositional. There were bursts of highly controlled intensity in the finale, yet always with absolutely natural phrasing.
There was an additional Haydn Minuet as an encore, from Opus 20/3 in G minor, again showcasing these musicians’ utter mastery of this composer.