Last year, when the Buffalo Chamber Music Society brought the Ying Quartet to perform with the Turtle Island String Quartet, the post-concert buzz about the younger players was that they played extremely well, certainly on a par with the more experienced Turtle Island folks.
Friday night found the Ying siblings (yes, they are family) ensconced in Lippes Concert Hall as the opening act in this season's Slee Beethoven Cycle. The fortuitous blending of a venerable performance series, within which some of the greatest string quartets of the past few decades have played, and a young, up-and-coming ensemble whose last appearance in the area was rightly ballyhooed, made for a marvelous evening.
Timothy Ying, the group's first violinist, was also the preconcert spokesman for the evening, talking to the audience about how each of the three Beethoven string quartets on the program were particularly meaningful to the performers, detailing how each of the scores came into their lives. Then, the Ying Quartet played each of the works with a mixture of polished affection and well-honed technique.
First up was the opus 127 string quartet in E flat major, the last of Beethoven's works addressing that format to have been published during his lifetime. Three of the piece's four movements last somewhere between six and seven minutes, but the heart of the work, its relatively large adagio, times out at somewhere north of fifteen minutes.
It was here, in the adagio, where the Ying Quartet demonstrated the tightly woven mesh of conception and execution, showcasing just how talented they really are. A quick, totally unscientific survey of people in attendance revealed that this was one of the finest performances of this at-times daunting work they had ever seen and heard.
The group's take on the early F major quartet from opus 18 was done in much the same way, taking care to put the music first. It was yet another opportunity for the players to explore the emotional colors of the composer's wonderfully poignant slow movements, a task which found them luxuriating in heartbreaking aural beauty.
Closing out the evening was a tenderly exciting performance of Beethoven's C major quartet from op. 59, perhaps the most singularly beguiling score mandated for the first concert in the Slee Beethoven Cycle.