Sunday, March 6, 2011

Review: Ysaÿe Quartet

March 5, Virginia Commonwealth University

The Ysaÿe Quartet, one of the preeminent French string ensembles, played up to its reputation in a performance of Debussy's Quartet in G minor that displayed all the most gratifying qualities of the French fiddle style – tonal clarity and focus, nuanced sonorities and colors – and with almost orchestral heft.

The Debussy highlighted the return of the Ysaÿe – violinists Guillaume Sutre and Luc-Marie Aguera, violist Miguel de Silva and cellist Yovan Markovitch – to VCU's Rennolds Chamber Concerts following a memorable 2004 program with the Paris Piano Trio. Then, the Ysaÿe's showcase was the Ravel String Quartet; with the Debussy this weekend, the group now has given Richmond the two greatest hits of the French quartet literature.

The musicians took Debussy's characterization of his quartet's first movement – animé et très décidé – as a lodestar for the whole piece. Their performance was propulsive and strongly accented yet finely detailed and richly colored, with especially striking timbres played by muted strings in the third movement.

The level of energy, dynamism and ear for musical tension that the Ysaÿe brought to the Debussy would have been welcome in a first half of Haydn's Quartet in G major, Op. 33, No. 5, and Beethoven's Quartet in E flat major, Op. 74 (known as the "Harp"). Both received rather mellow performances, with generally moderate tempos and a certain languor in quiet or slow passages.

The musicians sounded most engaged in the presto movement of the Beethoven, whose string voicings and balances might have been crafted with French string style especially in mind.

Violist de Silva and first violinist Sutre formed an animated and deftly bronze-colored duet in the third movement of Brahms' Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, Op. 67, played as an encore.