For its local debut, Wednesday at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, the Daniel String Quartet offered three works that revealed its strengths and weaknesses--and in the most unlikely places.
In a Music Guild event dominated by stylistically challenging works of Webern and Debussy, the Israel-formed, Amsterdam-based group seemed the most befuddled by, of all things, a quartet by Mozart. His K. 590--the composer's final statement in this medium--never took flight, weighed down by a reading noticeably devoid of grace and wit. Even the breathless run-through of the finale, though dazzling in its display of virtuosity, was hampered by a thinnish ensemble tone. Occasional intonational lapses didn't help the Mozartean cause either.
Matters quickly turned around, however, in a taut, committed performance of Webern's early "Langsamer Satz" (slow movement) of 1905, a rarely heard 20-minute work that predates his Opus 1 by three years. The piece is oppressive and cold and complex--like practically everything Webern wrote. Yet, perhaps because of the composer's youth, there are some diverting moments of unabashed tonality: full-out tonic chords, even some parallel harmonies. The ensemble managed to make perfect sense of this unusual music, making a good case for its permanent return to the concert hall.
Debussy's relatively familiar G-minor Quartet once again found the players--violinists Benzion Shamir and Misha Furman, violist Itamar Shimon and cellist Zvi Maschkowski--in a more comfortable setting. Here was an impeccably balanced performance that remained ever-mindful of the score's subtle coloristic demands.
Perhaps to underscore the ensemble's coolness to music of the Classical era, a movement from Haydn's Opus 64, No. 6, played in encore, emerged stiff and formal--much like the troublesome Mozart that had opened the proceedings.