Tuesday in the Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans Music Hall
Some folks hold with the idea that you can judge how interesting a concert will be by checking out the number of good local musicians who show up on an off night. This theory maintains that, when they can, musicians will drop in to see other really good players working their magic. It may or may not be a valid indicator but the whole idea seems logical somehow.
The Mary Seaton Room was packed to see one of the finest, longest lasting (more than 30 years) chamber music ensembles, the Tokyo String Quartet. Scattered throughout the audience were a fair number of current and past members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra string section, a fact that, if one believes in the aforementioned theory, boded well for the concert. Things certainly worked out well.
From the opening phrase of Mozart's last string quartet (K. 590) the current members of the Tokyo String Quartet showcased some of the many reasons they have been able to establish such a commendable record. Even though the personnel has changed, its overall sound has maintained a burnished warmth. The group also appears to have perpetuated a performance standard that consistently blends the virtues of head and heart to great effect.
Since 1995 this signature conception of sound has undoubtedly been aided by the marvelous set of Stradivarius instruments that were loaned to them by the Nippon Music Foundation. In the preconcert talk of Martin Beaver (first violinist) and Kazuhide Isomura (the violist), it was apparent that the players love their instruments and aren't necessarily looking forward to returning them.
The program featured a classic work from the 18th century (the Mozart piece), the lone quartet offering from one of the 19th century's greatest opera composers (Giuseppe Verdi), and an intriguing look at the beginnings of 20th century music (Anton Webern's 1905 quartet).
There was also a moving moment when the group began the last half of the concert by playing the Adagio of another Mozart quartet (K. 589) and dedicating it to Alta Mayer, a longtime cellist with the BPO and important figure on the Western New York music scene who recently died.
While the Mozart selection was almost a guaranteed hit, the other works scheduled on the program were not necessarily so. Happily, the group's conception in both was beyond reproach.
The Verdi piece was as dramatic and bracing as one would could reasonably expect from an opera composer. There were moments in the second movement where some of the mannerisms that led critics of Verdi's work to call it "organ grinder music," but the piece as a whole was marvelously performed.
Webern's work helped set the path for much of the last century's music but his quartet, while groundbreaking in some respects, was also filled with phrases of great beauty that the Tokyo String Quartet brought to the fore.