Thursday, February 19, 2004

Artemis String Quartet makes chamber music spectacular


Concert review

By John K. Toedtman
Enquirer contributor

The Cincinnati Chamber Music Society presented a concert by the famed Artemis String Quartet at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music Tuesday that permanently raised the bar for chamber music in this city.

Natascha Prischepenko and Heime Mueller are the two violinists in this dynamic quartet; Volker Jacobsen is the violist and Eckart Runge is the cellist. Perhaps it is the combination of Russian and German genes that makes for such a winning formula. The quartet's playing is polished and precise but at the same time spontaneous, fresh and explosive as though the music is being improvised on the spot. Even the physical motions involved with the bowing are beautifully choreographed to reflect the mood of the music.

The first piece on the program, Quartet in F Major, Op. 14, No. 1 by Beethoven is actually his Sonata for Piano in E Major, of the same opus, transcribed for string quartet by the composer. The first movement is an idyllic walk out-of-doors on a sunny day by a burbling brook, full of innocence and light. The third movement Rondo was as effervescent as French champagne.

The Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, Serioso, also by Beethoven, opens violently as though Beethoven is shaking his fist at fate. Then calmer forces come to the fore, but there is an earnest quality and an underlying rage not present in the earlier Quartet in F Major. The cello dominates the second movement with a melancholy descending scale while the other instruments play a consoling role. In the last movement a languid larghetto leads into the fitful allegretto agitato displaying another one of Beethoven's stormy moods. The piece ends with blistering speed requiring great virtuosity and was greeted by the ardent audience with loud bravos.

After the intermission the program concluded with Schoenberg's Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7, which is almost symphonic in scope. The quartet doesn't pause between movements but does retain the traditional allegro, scherzo, slow movement and rondo form.

The first movement, nicht zu rasch (not too fast), while not as orderly as the Beethoven, is almost romantic in style with melodic lines stretched out to the limit. After the storm of the last movement is past, a tranquil, hymnlike epilogue brings this epic quartet to an end. The Schoenberg Quartet is a tour de force for any group and the Artemis Quartet met this challenge with ease. After a standing ovation and insistent bravos the Quartet presented the fourth movement of Anton Weber's Five Pieces for String Quartet, Op 9, as an understated finale to a spectacular program.




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