It’s obvious why the Borromeo String Quartet has been returning to Maverick Concerts year after year. On Sunday afternoon they brought opulent sound, exquisite ensemble work, and elegant virtuosity to two important and indispensable pieces that demanded rigor from the players and diligent attention from the audience
Bartók’s String Quartet No. 6 in D Minor, the last of his six quartets, is is not easy to love, but the embrace of its power rewarded us in the Borromeo’s clear rendering. Written during the early days of World War Two, as chaos was only beginning to descend in Europe, the quartet opens with a disconsolate solo melody, a cri de coeur that introduces each of the work’s four movements. The foursome executed the changing moods and textures of the work adroitly. The grief-stricken gestures almost leave tonality behind, the grotesqueries of the march in the second movement, the deep sorrow of the fourth made for an enormously forceful performance of a monumental work.
After a longer-than-usual intermission, the players returned for Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127, the first of his legendary six late ones. This is another difficult work; a contemporary reviewer described it as a series of chaotic fantasies “from which flashes of genius emerged from time to time like lightning bolts from a black thunder cloud.” It demands unflagging attention from the listener and gives each individual instrument little respite. The Borromeo Quartet tackled it fearlessly and tirelessly, from the grand and gracious opening chords, through the slow movement, with its soaring melody that looks forward to Brahms, through the complex and tricky rhythms of the burletta, and finally to the joy and stately uplift of the ending.
The Borromeo String Quartet is ensemble-in-residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the New England Conservatory of Music, the Taos School of Music and the Heifetz International Music Institute. The group one of the most important ensembles of our time, hailed by The Boston Globe for its “edge-of-the- seat performances.”