LA JOLLA — When the Cleveland Quartet performs, it is difficult to dismiss the question, "Does it get any better?"
In Cleveland's Sunday night concert at UC San Diego's Mandeville Auditorium, the group's refinement, precision and unfailing lyricism proved an irresistible combination of virtues.
Their elegant, program-opening Haydn D Major Quartet, Op. 76, No. 5, could not have been more stylish. Though the set of Stradivarius instruments on which Cleveland plays contributed to the quartet's mellow, exquisitely focused sonority, the players' discerning approach made this late Haydn opus sing. They balanced the work's exuberance with a lucid texture that few ensembles are able to muster.
Much of Cleveland's enviable ensemble results from strong leadership at both ends of the spectrum.
Cellist Paul Katz, one of Cleveland's founding members, propels the group from below with authority and a consistently focused timbre. Violinist William Preucil, the newest musician, brings brilliance and vitality to the top; he turns the densest onslaught of figuration into a shapely phrase without dropping a 30-second note.