WESTMINSTER HALL was nearly full yesterday afternoon for the Baltimore String Quartet's season opening concert. This concert, originally scheduled for October, had been delayed due to microsurgery on violist Mary Zinman's finger. She has recovered and, happily, the concert was worth waiting for.
Opening with Mozart's Quartet in D Major (K. 155), the group quickly displayed its warm yet crystalline sound. Violinists Herbert Greenberg and Joseph Bykov, along with Zinman, and cellist Yuri Sher projected the sweetly extroverted melodies of this three-movement work. They played with a light touch that did justice to this charming diversion.
The program gained richness with the performance of Samuel Barber's Quartet in B Minor (Op. 11). Conceived in a resolutely conservative idiom, the quartet is, nevertheless, inventive on its terms. This compact piece is filled with many contrasting gestures. Passages of nervous intensity give way to moments of lyric abandon. The BSQ conveyed these fluctuating moods gracefully.
They did particularly well in the second movement, which has become famous as the "Adagio for Strings." Barber transcribed this movement for string orchestra and, hearing it in its original guise, it is fair to wonder if that was a good decision. Freed from the added weight of the orchestra, the movement builds to a striking climax that is all the more beautiful for its simplicity and directness. Cellist Sher's solos were especially poignant.
The concert concluded with Beethoven's Quartet in A Minor (Op. 132). One of Beethoven's late quartets, this sometimes enigmatic work is fiendishly difficult to pace. In it, Beethoven stretched the limits of quartet form to an unrivalled expansiveness. If it is not played well, it can seem an overly drawn-out bore.
Fortunately, the BSQ was up to the task. The players were firmly in control of the music's constantly evolving shapes. If some of the more subtle moments were lost, the work's overall design was clearly articulated. By the concert's end, the Beethoven had reached moments of great passion.
The Baltimore String Quartet at Westminster Hall continues on Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. with works by Brahms, Haydn, and Grieg.