The Borromeo String Quartet has been hailed by some critics as the best American string quartet now performing. On Saturday night, they certainly made a good case for inclusion in the top ranks.
It is rare that such a relatively young ensemble shows such a fine balance in its playing. All the voicings were as near to perfect as has been heard this season, with nary an instrument overstating or understating the arguments that Beethoven committed to paper.
The Borromeos were especially effective in the slow movements of the three quartets mandated for their concert. In the early Op. 18, No. 4, which opened the evening, the third movement Menuetto was the palpable hit of a work that is a pleasant structural workout, hinting more at the quartet's past than its future as Beethoven was to shape it. But the best was yet to come.
The last quartet written by Beethoven (Op. 135) is, in some ways, less of a groundbreaker than a mature summing up of earlier thoughts. The work is not so much a rehash as it is a different solution by the master to problems posed earlier in his career. Once again the ensemble playing was magnificent, and the slow movement (marked Lento assai e cantate tranquillo) was flawless.
By the time the group got around to the last work in the program, Beethoven's Op. 59, No. 2, there was no doubt that the audience was in the presence of some remarkable music-making.
Despite this composition's reputation as the lesser of the three quartets dedicated to Count Rasoumovsky, the second movement (adagio), as played by the Borromeo, was filled with awesome power, marking it as perhaps one of the most sublime moments in all of Beethoven's chamber music. It made a case for Carl Czerny's recollection about Beethoven's preoccupation at the time with Kant's philosophy re: "the music of the spheres."
Borromeo String Quartet
Concert No. 6 in the annual Slee/Beethoven Quartet Cycle
Saturday in Slee Concert Hall, UB North Campus.