The Artemis String Quartet, a young ensemble from Germany that has been creating a lot of international buzz, performed Tuesday in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall. The concert gave us a sense of why the group chose its name.
Artemis is the goddess of wilderness, wild animals, fertility and the hunt.
And all that delicious stuff certainly came into play in Schoenberg's Quartet No. 1, which for all intents and purposes anchored the evening. The Brahms quartet that opened the program, while substantial, didn't elicit quite the commitment from the group the Schoenberg did. You could tell where the musicians' hearts lay. With Schoenberg's jagged yearnings, shivery pulses and sudden, soaring passions.
With the wilderness, wild animals, fertility and the hunt.
Schoenberg's Quartet No. 1 is a dense thicket of music, 45 minutes long, all in one movement. This unusual structure was meant, I think, to disorient you. It's a little like walking into a casino where there are no clocks or windows, only a haze of lights and sound. Or, musically speaking, like taking in a long, seamless act of a Wagner opera.
You lose yourself in the music the way you can lose yourself in a love affair. That has to be what Schoenberg intended. This is an abstract piece, intensely personal, and will mean different things to different people. But you can't miss that it's about passion. The friend who went with me, a jazz singer who has no pretensions as far as classical music goes, was riveted. "This is so sexual!" she whispered.
The piece certainly gave the musicians a chance to show what they could do. Ten or 15 minutes into it, first violinist Natalia Prishepenko's bow was already fraying. Violist Volker Jacobsen had to grapple with sounds not normally in his range. All four -- the other two are violinist Heime Mueller and cellist Eckart Runge -- had to join in whispery, almost ghostly passages, their tone thin as mountain air.
From the beginning, though, the group gave the music a firm sense of purpose, which helped the audience navigate this tightly packed creation. Some of the themes could remind you of Richard Strauss, of smoldering moments from "Der Rosenkavalier." And one of the quartet's most enchanting moments was a haunting, very Viennese gypsy waltz. Prishepenko carried the tune, harmonizing with herself in a demanding double-stop passage. She played it beautifully.
The Artemis' greatest strength could be its fine sense of timing. They were perfectly in sync, of one mind and of one purpose. The final notes were exquisitely calibrated, perfectly in balance. The effect was mesmerizing.
We got Webern as an encore. Normally, the prospect might be intimidating. Not Tuesday. We were ready. Bring it on!
The concert began with the Quartet in A Minor, OP. 51, No. 2. Like the Schoenberg, it spotlighted the group's flawless timing, particularly the first movement.
Presented by Buffalo Chamber Music Society on Tuesday night in Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.