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The Keller's Radiant Ligeti

Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page C09

So many fine string quartets come out of Hungary, you would think there's something special in the Danube's waters. On Tuesday night at Coolidge Auditorium, the Library of Congress presented the Keller Quartet, one of that nation's best ensembles. The Keller -- violinist Andras Keller, second violinist Janos Pilz, violist Zoltan Gail and cellist Judit Szabo -- gave a radiant performance that included one of the gems of the quartet's repertoire.

Any performance of Gyorgy Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1 is a not-to-be-missed event, and the Keller was completely at home in this brooding exploration of mystery, darkness and the macabre. The Hungarian composer takes a short theme through a series of strange and otherworldly moods. Bracingly eliciting the unique effects and driving rhythms, the Keller placed the quartet somewhere between an inspired variation on a Bartok quartet and a purely modernist avant-garde work. The players went for broke, heightening the work's romping character.

The Keller also brought out the warmth of Schubert's early String Quartet in E-flat without obscuring the shapely inner voices. This intelligent and lucid approach captured the wit of the second movement and the poignancy of the third-movement adagio. It also paid off in Debussy's String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10, where the ensemble's sense of balance and proportion led to a reading of unflagging dash and verve.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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