A truism for any performer is to “put your best foot forward” — open with something that is not too demanding and that shows off your best qualities.
The Parker Quartet, alas, did the opposite at their concert Friday evening. This youthful, high-energy group has many virtues — its performances show detailed preparation and good discipline. The closing work of its performance at the Barns of Wolf Trap — Dvorak’s virtuosic Op. 61 quartet — featured clean textures, excellent control of soft dynamics, good intonation and a charming impetuosity.
Before that, Britten’s luminous Quartet No. 2 also received a polished reading with superb solo cadenzas in the last movement. Britten’s unique sound-world requires players to know their instruments like their own bodies; its many effects are lost unless the greatest care is taken. Here again, the Parker was exemplary. There were a few intonation slip-ups between the violins in the scherzo, but overall, the performance was successful.
All of that came as a welcome corrective to the opening work, Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23 in F major, K. 590. No composer so brutally locates and exposes every shortcoming of a musician or group, and here, the Parker came up short. From the pinched sound of the first violinist, to the group’s lack of vibrato on repeated notes, to the ostentatious, bows-in-the-air pose they struck during short rests (which were then always too long), to the lack of a singing line carried from one instrument to the next, to the breathlessly fast minuet, the performance was a virtual catalogue of how not to play this composer.
And even in the other two pieces, for all their musical sincerity and fine technique, these young musicians were afraid of expressive slides and still focused a bit too much on basics (ensemble and intonation) to really say something engaging or original. They certainly have the wherewithal to move into higher echelons, but they need to listen to themselves more and think about what’s coming out.
Battey is a freelance writer.