Why it is hard even for some professionals to enjoy the masterpieces of Schoenberg more than 50 years after they were written is difficult to answer. Last evening in the Baltimore Museum of Art the Cleveland String Quartet gave a performance of the composer's String Quartet No. 4 (1936) and it was hard to disagree with the assessment of Sam DiBonaventura, in an insightful program note, that this quartet was beautifully worked out and even romantic in its outlook.
All one had to do was listen to the opening of the second movement with its intersecting melodies in the second violin and viola to understand that this was music that could only be played by -- indeed was conceived for -- the string quartet. That is a remark that cannot always be made for so great a master of the string quartet as Shostakovich. Yet despite the beauty of the writing -- the slow movement with its contrast of extended lyricism and dramatic outbursts is particularly fine -- it was hard to feel close to the piece. Even in so fine a performance, it remained a beautiful, but forbidding mountain.
The Clevelanders -- violinists William Preucil and Peter Salaff, violist James Dunham and cellist Paul Katz -- also played Samuel Adler's affecting "Herinnering" -- the Dutch word means "remembrance" -- and Beethoven's mighty first "Rasoumovsky"