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Music Review

Burnished Sounds From Leipzig Quartet

March 25, 2002|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Judging from its first appearance on the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary's College's series at the Doheny Mansion on Friday night, the Leipzig String Quartet is well worth getting to know.

With a fine collective pedigree--three of the four members were once principals in the superb Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra--this quartet's blend is defined by the warm, burnished, dark-hardwood-colored inner voices of the second violin and viola. It's a heavy sound, yet not immobile, for they keep the tempos moving briskly and they execute immaculately.

The Leipzig appears to be a staunch friend of contemporary music--its repertoire list is loaded with interesting 20th century works--but the foursome doesn't treat the core classics casually. They opened with a strong performance of Haydn's String Quartet, Opus 20, No. 4, leading to a finale bursting with dash and momentum despite the immense weight of their tone. Beethoven's vast String Quartet No. 15 was marked not so much by spiritual elevation as a bracing sweep of nervous energy, extending even into the massive slow movement.

Mendelssohn's String Quartet, Opus 80, is worth dwelling upon because this was the Leipzig-based composer's greatest quartet, yet we hardly ever hear it played live. Written only months before his death as a reaction to the passing of his beloved sister Fanny, the piece is agitated, despairing, even angry, upsetting the stereotype of Mendelssohn as a prim, proper optimist.

The dark Leipzig timbre was well-suited for this music, and the quartet could dig deeply into its most virulent passages without flying out of control.

In a nod to another townsman, the quartet closed with J.S. Bach's "The Day Is Gone, the Sun Is Setting."

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