Tokyo String Quartet at the 92nd Street Y – Haydn, Bartók & Debussy

String Quartet in G, Op.64/4
String Quartet No.2
String Quartet in G minor, Op.10

Tokyo String Quartet [Martin Beaver & Kikuei Ikeda (violins), Kazuhide Isomura (viola) & Clive Greensmith (cello)]

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 17 March, 2012
Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y, New York City

Tokyo String Quartet. Photograph: Christian DucasseThe Tokyo String Quartet continued its chronological cycle of Bartók’s string quartets paired with ones by Haydn. It was intriguing to contemplate music by the originator of the string-quartet form with music by a twentieth-century innovator. The Haydn showcased the musicians’ rich, warm timbres on their matching set of Stradivarius instruments. The opening Allegro was spirited and joyous, Martin Beaver playing with articulation that was precise but never stiff. The Minuet was a thoughtful balance of seriousness and levity. Beaver shone in the Adagio and found a new and mysterious range of colors when the melody returned in the minor key. The finale was robust but not heavy, achieving a sense of motion without sounding rushed. The sudden moodswings near the work’s end were achieved with just the right amount of dramatic weight.

The emotional climate shifted into new territory in the Bartók. As in the Haydn, the inner voices were more subdued than their counterparts, but surprisingly this effect worked nicely. The opening Moderato had a Romantic quality, the melodic lines being the driving force. The players’ perfect intonation allowed the dissonant harmony to resonate with naturalness. The Allegro molto capriccioso was played with great attention to the bigger picture. Instead of highlighting the angry nature of the fragmented rhythms and accented tritones, the players took a mature approach and held back the harsh articulation in order to let the drama build. The result was still forceful, but less reliant on raw energy and more concerned with creating a complex dialog. In the final Lento, the jarring nature of the dissonant harmonies was finally highlighted. When the music grew in volume and intensity, it seemed to sum up a long story – a hyper-aware performance of a piece that flowed as naturally as the Haydn.

Martin Beaver and Clive Greensmith continued to act as dual leaders in the Debussy, with the inner voices again playing in an introverted manner. The initial Animé had a modulated intensity, with the tempo on the slow side. The players had a lovely smooth and blended tone. The second movement’s ostinato lines seemed to take the music right out of the Classical genre – each repetition had a precise sameness that seemed to foreshadow computer-generated dance-music, yet with the added interest of contrasting schmaltzy violin melodies. The Andantino was beautifully wistful, and the whole-tone harmonic motion perfectly tuned. The finale did not give away too much too soon. Greensmith’s sound was large even when the volume was quiet, and he provided a solid foundation. One could not argue with the end result of such a thoughtfully paced interpretation.

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