The Vogler Quartet, an exhilarating musical experience

March 21, 2011

The Vogler Quartet, founded a quarter-century ago in East Berlin, has not had a large U.S. profile, even though it made an early splash with a series of fine recordings on RCA/BMG. In the past decade, it appeared only once at the Kennedy Center and never at the Library of Congress. I mention this because those prestigious venues have clearly missed the boat with this remarkable ensemble, which is superior to most of the groups they present.

Fortunately, Dumbarton Concerts in Georgetown has brought the Vogler here twice recently, and Saturday evening’s performance confirmed its place near the top of the profession. In a program of Beethoven, Erwin Schulhoff and Dvorak, the group displayed the highest technical polish and a striking unanimity of style and purpose.

Unanimity is not actually a prerequisite for great quartet playing; some groups make a virtue of each member’s individuality. But the Vogler’s style focuses on the overall conception and architecture of the music. Compared to other top groups, its expressive palette might even be called “limited”; none of its members has a particularly rich or soloistic tone (least of all the first violinist), and it doesn’t sound as though they’re using top-quality Italian instruments. But the emphasis on purity of delivery with complete alignment of every musical detail is almost exhilarating to experience.

The Vogler’s intonation is stunningly pure; chords ring out with a nimbus of beauty. There is no showboating or overplaying. The quartet offers perfectly matched bow-strokes, a solid, natural sense of rhythm and voice-leading that bespeaks the deepest knowledge of the score. Every detail becomes a piece of a vast mosaic, perceptible on multiple levels. A marvelous group.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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