The Chamber Music Society of Baltimore opened its 46th season Sunday evening at the Baltimore Museum of Art on a high note, with a spirited recital by the Colorado String Quartet. It's always a pleasure to hear young string quartets display talent and enthusiasm with not only standard quartet fare but also challenging new scores.
The focal point of the evening was a dazzling interpretation of the Quartet No. 4 by the Czech composer Karel Husa. The work is constructed in six continuous movements, each based on a specific poetic idea surrounding the 1989 events in Husa's homeland as the Communist regime fell. Each movement had a specific challenge for the quartet, which they relished with style.
There was a slight false start, but they quickly recovered and delivered a riveting realization of this daunting score.
The other 20th-century work on the program also got a first-class realization. Paul Hindemith's String Quartet comes from the end of his early "bad boy" period of the early 1920s. The five movements had plenty of contrasting material, and for the most part the quartet gave it the proper dramatic setting.
Particularly haunting was the third movement, a wonderful bit of "nacht musik" that was perfectly eerie, strange and wonderful at the same time.
The evening started with an elegant reading of the Quartet in E-flat Major, Opus 33, No. 2, of Joseph Haydn. The only little quibble for this listener was the overly schmaltzy contributions of the first violin in the trio of the Scherzo; it was the 19th century crashing over the 18th century and blemished an otherwise excellent performance.
The Chamber Music Society of Baltimore should be applauded for bringing the Colorado String Quartet to Baltimore. The music in this series always looks to our own century, and while it can be challenging, the excellent quality of the musicians gives the city its best platform to appreciate contemporary chamber music. Sunday's audience was small but attentive. One hopes more will take advantage of this superb series of concerts in the future.