Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Tokyo String Quartet

May 4, Virginia Commonwealth University

The Tokyo String Quartet, calling it quits this summer after a 43-year career, is not going away gently. Its farewell tour is an international affair, and some of the stops on that tour are pretty demanding. The group’s appearance last weekend at Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, included a day’s worth of workshops with local string players, culminating in an evening program of Beethoven, Bartók and Mendelssohn.

The ensemble is disbanding as its two remaining Japanese members, second violinist Kikuei Ikeda and violist Kazuhide Isomura, retire. The Tokyo’s performances in the season finale of VCU’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts sounded like a celebration of Ikeda and Isomura, the quartet’s two “inside” men, charged with illuminating the inner details of much of the quartet literature.

Isomura, especially, was a consistently prominent voice in all three of the program’s selections, Beethoven’s Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (known as the “Serioso”); Bartók’s Quartet No. 6; and Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2. His rhythmic contributions were crisp and energetic in the Beethoven and Bartók; and he brought unusual warmth to the Mendelssohn.

The Beethoven suffered from odd balances, due in part to the rather reticent first violin of Martin Beaver, and in part to Clive Greensmith’s heavy, rather woolly sounding cello.

The Bartók, introduced in a richly moody viola solo by Isomura, received a finely detailed, expressively pointed reading, peaking in a highly concentrated burletta.

Collectively, the foursome was at its best in the Mendelssohn, balancing the work’s lyricism with its more turbulent expressive passages.

A prolonged ovation from a near-capacity crowd brought the Tokyo back for a brief encore, the menuetto from Mozart’s Quartet in D major, K. 499.

(Sorry for the lateness of this posting. I’ve been having computer issues.)