in: Reviews

July 23, 2012

Leipzig String Quartet Meets High Expectations


Things started off OK for me at Maverick Concerts on Sunday afternoon, July 22. I arrived with my wife at 3:15, plenty of time to get decent seats. At 3:30, when the hall opened, we were in line and got inside. Then, as custom dictates, we placed our programs on our chosen seats and went outside again to enjoy some of the Maverick concession stand’s fine coffee and excellent treats.

When we returned to the hall fifteen minutes later, nearly all the indoor seats were taken, including ours. The yuppie jerks sitting in our seats claimed there had been no programs there. It makes perfect sense that someone else would have come along, removed the programs, and then just taken them away! Since my wife likes outdoor seating anyway, I decided to accept the situation. We sat in the front row of the outdoor section. From there, I was pleased to see that by concert time the outdoor section was nearly full, an uncommon situation in recent years. Later I confirmed that the Leipzig Quartet had drawn the largest audience so far this season.

In a way, though, sitting outside was a mistake. I’ve done that before, and the sound is far from bad, just a bit fainter in volume. But that bit can make a difference, as, for example, when some of the accents in Beethoven’s Op. 95 seemed somewhat mild, or the articulation in the first violin part of the opening theme of Mendelssohn’s Op. 44, No. 1 wasn’t clear. Given my previous experience with this ensemble, I’m much inclined to give the players the benefit of the doubt and presume I just couldn’t hear everything they were doing.

So if you’re a critic at Maverick, sit inside. The management, displeased at my experience, has offered to reserve seats for me in the future and I’m inclined to accept the offer, which will give me a few minutes more to enjoy my coffee.

A last-minute health problem in the family of one of the LSQ’s members took away necessary rehearsal time for a new work in the ensemble’s repertory. So the program had to be changed at the last minute, not just to eliminate Franck’s String Quartet, but to change the planned Beethoven. The changes caused no audible problems, though. In the Quartet in D, Op. 18, No. 3, one could immediately hear the group’s sweet sound, refinement, and detail, coupled with more than enough vitality. The second movement sounded almost like a jeweled music box, followed by nice swing in the Scherzo and a very playful finale.

It was in Op. 95 that I felt a small lack of power, but as mentioned I’m more inclined to attribute that to the acoustics than the actual performance. The second movement here was deeply affecting, and the finale was played with such light, swift quality that it sounded downright Mendelssohnian.

As for Mendelssohn, himself, his Quartet in D, Op. 44, No. 1,  the only survivor from the original program, was played with fine balance; its lightness of spirit was balanced by plenty of substance. Some day I would love to hear this ensemble tackle Mendelssohn’s Op. 80, perhaps his most overtly tragic work and a neglected masterpiece. Its playing of the Quartet in D indicates that its Op. 80 will be excellent.

Maverick has already announced that the Leipzig String Quartet will return next summer, and this time we are promised that Franck Quartet.

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