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The Cassatt String Quartet opened the Slee Beethoven String Quartet Cycle Friday night in Slee Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus.


Cassatt String Quartet

With its performances Friday in Slee Hall, the Cassatt String Quartet started its second consecutive Western New York run at the Beethoven String Quartet cycle. Over the course of six concerts containing some of the meatiest intellectual fare in chamber music, it has been (and will be) challenged to perform to the utmost of its abilities. That said, it doesn't mean that it will necessarily measure up to the task all of the time.

Its latest lineup still includes Muneko Otani, first violinist and sole remaining original member, along with longtime second violinist Jennifer Leshnower, but violist Michiko Oshima and cellist Kelley Mikkelsen have been replaced with Tawnya Popoff and Caroline Stinson, respectively, two young, developing musicians with potentially promising careers ahead of them.

Melding new talent with musicians already secure in their concepts is always a dicey proposition and sometimes results in slight miscues on entrances along with uneven work in unison passages. While both of these newcomers -- especially Stinson -- show flashes of impending brilliance, Oshima and Mikkelsen were the strongest, most consistent members in the last edition of the quartet, and the self-assured interplay they often displayed with the two violinists was missed.

Otani certainly has all the fire and drive that one could desire in a first violinist, and Leshnower is a steadying force, but the leader seems to favor power and speed over control at times, slipping into exuberance and out of pitch at the most inconvenient times, a factor that stability in a second banana can't cover up.

Flashes of performer-generated talent were apparent in the third movement of the wonderfully expressive Op. 127 quartet, the first two sections of the earliest work on the program (Op. 18, No. 1) and in parts of the third "Rasumovsky" quartet (Op. 59, No. 3), but instances of true magic belonged more to the composer than to the ensemble.

-- Garaud MacTaggart

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