The visiting Musicians From Marlboro opened Tuesday's concert with Haydn's 1790 Quartet in E-Flat, Op 64 No. 6, performed by violinists Augustin Hadelich and Karina Canellakis, violist Sebastian Krunnies and cellist Peter Stumpf.
Haydn's quartets lie easily on the ear, but it is deceptively difficult to elevate their performance from the level of merely pleasant to one that jumps up and commands attention. This is especially true in Op. 64, considered by many to be the point where both Haydn and the string quartet form reached full maturity.
The performance was professional but inconsistent, gradually coming together with a more cohesive ensemble in the Menuetto and Presto Finale to conclude with some Viennese charm and zest. In the first two movements, I was more aware of listening to four individuals than a quartet.
Messrs. Hadelich and Stumpf gave the most exciting performance of the evening in Kodaly's 1914 Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7. This music studies the relationship between the flowing lyricism and the rich, warm stridency of the strings.
There was no question artists were right on top of its passion and drama, deftly exchanging difficult pizzicato exchanges and applying captivating phrasing to its many Hungarian folk tunes and rhythms. The slow movement's mysterious quality and dramatic posture were superbly realized. Although the balance favored the cello, and violin intonation upstairs was occasionally uncertain, the precision of ensemble was electrically exciting and brought torrents of applause.
To conclude, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois joined the quartet in Brahms' Clarinet Quintet in B minor, which luxuriates in comparing the radiant sweetness and autumnal melancholy that infuse his late works. The clarinetist's tone was appropriately dark in sonority and rode on a compellingly fluid sense of lyric line.
The performance peaked in the exquisite slow movement, where the clarinet was predominantly the lead voice and the strings provided superb ensemble support. Without that lead, the strings often did not seem to be playing to a common center.
Nonetheless the beauty of Brahms prevailed, and the Finale's lovely quiet ending left the audience with something special to remember on the way home.
Musicians From Marlboro
Tuesday night in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.