Sunday afternoon, July 24, the Maverick Concerts debut of the Leipzig String Quartet brought an unusual approach to string quartet playing. It was very welcome. After hearing some of this ensemble’s recordings, and from reading reviews of its concerts, I was expecting something out of the ordinary from the LSQ. I was not disappointed. The program began with Mendelssohn’s atypically tragic String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80, the only work he completed between the death of his sister Fanny and his own death six months later. From the opening moments of the music, the LSQ’s sound seemed larger than that of most string quartets. It is built from the bottom up, based on the powerful cello playing of Matthias Moosdorf, but it is not bottom-heavy. In fact, the group’s balance is wonderful, all instruments consistently audible and present.
Unlike the norm of contemporary string quartet playing, influenced in large part by the successful work of the Tokyo and Emerson Quartets, the LSQ does not seek the kind of sharp-edged rhythmic and ensemble precision we’ve gotten used to. This seems a deliberate choice and contributes to the individuality of the LSQ’s playing. I love that crisper sound in some music (like Bartók), but for the music on this program the LSQ’s mellower approach worked beautifully. The Mendelssohn performance brought out all the unrelenting tragedy of the music, the second movement played with almost frightening intensity.
The LSQ is consistent yet chameleon-like. In Schumann’s Quartet in A, Op. 41, No. 3, the sound became lighter, although still recognizably the ensemble’s own. After the fervent second movement, the finale was delightfully dancy. This superb performance actually motivated me to do something I seldom do these days; after the concert I bought the LSQ’s CD set of Schumann’s String Quartets and Piano Quintet!
There was yet another sound for Verdi’s String Quartet in E Minor, even more lyrical than that of the Schumann. But the LSQ did not ignore the powerful Beethoven influence that Maverick Music Director Alexander Platt pointed out in his introduction. Only the second movement of this piece has the Verdi opera sound; it is quite aria-like. The others are clearly Beethovenian in style, and the dot-dot-dot-dash motif of the Fifth Symphony is prominent in the finale.
Especially in this performance, the Verdi Quartet sounded so good that I wished for the chance to go back in time and tell the composer, “Hey, Joe, don’t waste your time on stuff like ‘I Masnadieri!’ Write some more string quartets!”