The illustrious Borromeo String Quartet, a frequent visitor to the Maverick, exceeded our high expectations in “Haydn’s Legacy.” With almost every seat occupied, Sunday’s concert opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1. From the grand, almost orchestral gestures of the first movement through the grace and sparkle of the inner ones, to the rustic touches in the finale, the Borromeo players were both solid and brilliant, giving this work from the composer’s years in London a sumptuous reading with all of the requisite charm and grandeur. The Quartet delivered, as Nick Kitchen, Kris Tong, and Yeesun Kim. welcomed new violist Melissa Reardon to the 33-year-old foursome.
String Quartet No. 2 by British/Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga, a rigorous work from 1994 also dished up plenty of charm and grace; the Borromeos sounded as much at home in its 20th-century style as they had been in Haydn’s 18th.
Beethoven’s glorious late-period String Quartet No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131 followed intermission. The Borromeos drew us out of ourselves and into the composer’s mind from the first heartbreaking violin solo notes of the opening fugue through almost 50 minutes to the emphatic tierce de picarde at the end. That great C-major closing gesture, after so much arduous C-sharp minor (and all its relations) can seem somehow grudging. But the players sublimely transcended the toil Sturm und Drang and finished with majesty and understanding. It was as if, in this last-composed quartet, Beethoven had been taking his leave not only of the string quartet genre, but also of a life spent in service to the Muse. Beethoven died before the work was published and before it was first performed, though he would not have been able to hear it.
This listener, accustomed to the front row at the Maverick, chose on Sunday afternoon to sit at the rear. There the sound blossomed out in every direction, as the commodious wood of the hall, obliged by coming alight with a golden radiance that filled our heart. It’s a source of wonder that just four people, hard at work at the front of the hall, could excite a space so completely, so wondrously . . . so splendidly.