Tokyo String Quartet plays perfection, truth

April 13, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Aside from the Piano Quintet, Schumann's chamber music has never been popular. Yet the three string quartets have noble ideas, and they breathe Schumann's ever-present romanticism.

It was a pleasure, therefore, to hear the Tokyo String Quartet perform Schumann's A Minor Quartet (Op. 41, No. 3) Sunday evening in the season's final Shriver Hall Concert Series.

The A Minor Quartet is not an easy work to hold together. It begins with each of the instruments imitating the other in a strict canon and then -- in typically Schumannesque fashion -- wandering off into the specifics of sonata form.

One doesn't expect the Mozart-Haydn-Beethoven approach to the string quartet from this dreamiest of composers; the slow (third) movement is nothing but an extended song. Even Schubert attempted more in his slow movements.

The members of the Tokyo (violinists Mikhail Kopelman and Kikuei Ikeda, violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellist Sadao Harada) caught the delicate spirit of this lovely work just about perfectly. Their approach was never heavy; their intonation was precisely adjusted; their ensemble was tight; and they captured the music's romanticism without unnecessary lingering over phrases and becoming bogged down in slow tempos.

There wasn't much these excellent players could do to make Michio Mamiya's two-movement String Quartet No. 3 ("A Song of the White Wind") interesting. This was one of those ecological, do-gooder pieces. (A composer's note in the program book informed us that " `The White Wind' in the title signifies the God of the Wind [of] Native Americans.")

Yep, it's pretty boring stuff: brand X music, with high-pitched screaming string patterns in the first movement and dreamlike, subdued patterns in the second. The best thing about this work was the quiet, almost Shostakovich-like ending -- and it didn't come a moment too soon.

The Tokyo's talents were better applied to the evening's final work, the third of Beethoven's "Rasumovsky" Quartets (Opus 59). The sonority the players produced was beautifully blended and superbly focused. Yet their prime concern was truth, not beauty.

The opening of the first movement created mystery and awe. And the players took the final movement at close to the composer's impossibly fast metronome marking, thus releasing the torrent of energy in the fugal dam burst of the Allegro molto.

Pub Date: 4/13/99

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