Leah Hollingsworth hears the performance at 92Y, NY, on 9 April 2019
The Artemis Quartet took a serious but beautiful approach to Barber’s famous Molto Adagio, and I especially loved the cellist’s elegance, satiny phrases and impressive bow control. Britten’s String Quartet no.2 followed, and the opening unison was filled with youthful curiosity and playfulness. The Quartet’s extremely articulate playing, clear characters and outstanding ensemble – especially in the energy of the bowing – brought the work to life. The cadenzas in the final movement were all powerfully played, with good control and character – although I missed opportunities for vulnerability or tenderness in the piece.
Schubert’s sensational String Quartet no.14 in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’ followed the interval, and the Allegro showed off the brilliant spiccato of the ensemble (especially from the first violin), as well as nuanced time-taking. The second theme in the cello was beautifully understated and quite elegant. I loved the breathy bell-tones in the opening of the Andante and the pristine intonation and thoughtful use of vibrato led to many tender moments in the movement. The cello variation was particularly powerful – intimate and playful all at once, and quite special. The quartet finished with great energy although the final Presto seemed to run away a bit, teetering just on the edge tempo-wise.
A Bach chorale closed the evening and the quartet’s purity of sound was a fittingly simple ending to the programme.