Saturday, September 15, 2007

Review: Brentano String Quartet

Sept. 15, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond

Haydn, Bartók and Beethoven are pretty mainstream names for a string-quartet program, so the patrons of VCU’s Mary Anne Rennolds Chamber Concerts' opening night might have thought they were in for an evening of relatively easy listening.

In fact, the Brentano String Quartet’s menu was a feast of brain food and high fiber: Haydn’s Quartet in D major, Op. 76, No. 5, Bartók’s Quartet No. 6 and Beethoven’s Quartet in E flat major, Op. 127. The Haydn, the least challenging of the three, is an extraordinarily sophisticated musical discourse. The Bartók and Beethoven are epics of the quartet genre, in both length and content.

The Brentano – violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory and cellist Nina Maria Lee – perform with the clarity and transparency of a period-instruments ensemble (although on modern instruments and without adherence to "historically informed" techniques). Their lean, focused sound draws the listener deep into what they’re playing, without the distractions of overly sensuous fiddle tone or overtly portentous expression.

The most consistent impression made by this quartet is one of thoughtful musicality and concentration. Their absorption of these pieces was so thorough, so deep, that they made "difficult" music make perfect sense in real time – and made it live and breathe.