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Alexander Quartet: Beethoven by Request

April 28, 1998|JOHN HENKEN

The Alexander String Quartet, which finished recording the Beethoven cycle a year ago, arrived Sunday at Schoenberg Hall with an imposing stunt: a program chosen by audience vote, via mail, from the Beethoven 16. Although the balloting was conducted in advance, the players reportedly did not know the final selections until an hour before the concert.

There was nothing gimmicky about the results, however. With the election options presorted into the usual style periods, it was probably impossible to come up with a bad program, though quite easy to arrive at a physically and emotionally taxing one.

That the audience did, choosing Opus 18, No. 6 ("La Malinconia"), Opus 59, No. 2 in E minor, and the Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131. Despite the conventional chronological grouping, the Alexander seems to be an ensemble that sees its Beethoven whole rather than as three stylistic incarnations related only by evolution. There is growth, to be sure, in its Beethoven, but the emphasis Sunday was on the continuity of exploration, ignoring boundaries instead of defining them.

Signs of tiring began emerging in the Presto of Opus 131, but otherwise the evening revealed a formidable ensemble in peak condition. Violinists Ge-Fang Yang and Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough and cellist Sandy Wilson produced a flexible, consistently pertinent sound and appealingly individual inflections that enhanced the clarity of Beethoven's developments.

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