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Music Reviews : Cleveland, Meliora Quartets at Biltmore

February 11, 1988|HERBERT GLASS

The Cleveland Quartet has been showing enormous promise since its inception 20 ago. Vast skill has always been there. Fame has never been lacking. Yet on the occasion of its "Chamber Music in Historic Sites" concert on Tuesday --held in the Crystal Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel--one couldn't escape the thought that fulfillment of that promise remains elusive.

The feeling was inspired by the opening work on the program, Beethoven's Quartet in B-flat, Opus 18, No. 6, which was attacked with such unwarranted ferocity and speed that its inherent grace was obliterated. (The room's addition of an obbligato part for ventilating fan hardly helped matters.)

The Cleveland style remains dominated by the hyperintense playing of its brilliant first violinist, Donald Weilerstein. How much more rewarding it would be if the (seemingly) cooler heads of his equally gifted colleagues--second violinist Peter Salaff, violist James Dunham (late of the lamented Sequoia Quartet) and cellist Paul Katz--could occasionally prevail.

Dazzle, speed and intensity had their shining moments, however, at the Biltmore when the youthful, Florida-based Meliora Quartet--violinists Ian Swensen and Calvin Wiersma, violist Maria Lambros, cellist Elizabeth Anderson--joined the Cleveland in Mendelssohn's Octet.

The Meliora members were not only able to keep up with Weilerstein's heady pacing but proved equal partners in an interpretation of boggling accuracy and balance--a little short, perhaps, on faerie charm, but certainly not lacking in fiery agility.

Between Beethoven and Mendelssohn, the Meliora Quartet, without benefit of assistance from their celebrated seniors, took the stage for a stunningly accomplished and poignant reading of Bartok's Fifth Quartet which, one hopes, served as prelude to wider local exposure for these musicians.

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