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Berlin's Artemis Quartet Shines With Its Youthful Exuberance

Music Review

January 31, 2000|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As string quartets go, the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet is relatively young, having been on the international scene only since the mid-1990s. So at this stage, the unified, aged-in-the-wood tonal blend and telepathic communication that the long-running quartets often display aren't apparent yet, nor should one expect it.

But what you get from this group, which made its Los Angeles debut at the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary's College's Doheny Mansion series Friday, is enthusiasm, uninhibited expression, and an unjaded attitude.

Exhibit A was the performance of Beethoven's String Quartet in F, Opus 135, which couldn't have been in greater contrast to the depressingly blah reading that we endured from the veteran Vermeer Quartet at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last month. Now you could hear a lively dialogue between the players, plenty of gruffness and motor energy--they nailed the crazy dance in the middle of the scherzo, pumping it with manic frenzy--and later there was a degree of meditative depth and drawn-out angst. No business-as-usual here.

Believe it or not, Verdi wrote a string quartet and after listening in vain for a characteristic tune or flourish, if you didn't know who the composer was, you wouldn't ever guess. Apparently he knocked off this pleasant, generic throwback to his classical composition lessons while sitting in a hotel with nothing better to do. The Artemis treated it with a plusher, more heavyset blend than in Beethoven.

After a democratic swap of chairs between violinists Natalia Prischepenko and Heime Muller, the Artemis retained its weightier approach for Mozart's somewhat resigned Quartet in D minor, K.421., indulging in effective tempo fluctuations.

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