By R.M. Campbell
The group, with violinists Sebastian Gurtler and Regis Bringolf, violist Gertrud Weinmeister and cellist Florian Berne, offered lean and tangy accounts of Haydn, Janacek and Brahms. Haydn’s String Quartet in G Minor, the third of three quartets of the Opus 20, was the least successful. Isn’t that often the case with string quartets today? It was anxious, with inconsistent ensemble and lack of organic growth. It appeared the quartet hadn’t made up its collective mind about how to approach the work. The very free-flowing ease with which Haydn is often associated was not entirely absent but often so.
Janacek’s Second Quartet (“Intimate Letters’) was a different kettle of fish. Here the quartet seemed on home turf, although why Haydn would not be home turf for a Austrian quartet seems difficult to understand. Maybe chronology is more important than geography. In any event, the performance was compelling, at once anguished, disconcerting, uneasy. Janacek is better known for his operas and orchestral works, but this quartet is worthy of attention. The Wolf Quartet must have an affinity for its character, because it was so deeply in it. All of its varied emotions, and the range is quite wide, were given acute expressions. With the Wolf, one heard some of the same potency one hears in his operas.
The conclusion was the last quartet Brahms wrote, in B-flat Major. One could have assumed the lean approach heard in the Haydn and Janaceck would have been cast aside. That was not the case. The Wolf was precisely the same, although certainly there were stylistic differences. This is not a complaint. One hears Brahms played so often with the heart on the sleeve that to hear something less openly expressive is welcome. Gurtler has a finely wrought tone that gives the quartet its essential tonal attributes. This was counterbalanced, somewhat in the Brahms by Weinmeister’s rich viola sound. Brahms was very generous to the viola, and Weinmeister took every advantage, lending a rich, handsome sound to what Brahms provided. Moreover, there was energy and variety to the playing. This was not everyday Brahms.