Artemis: Turning Up The Volume

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Artemis String Quartet is a superb European ensemble that doesn't sound so, well, European. True, Artemis plays with all the intensity of feeling, warmth of expression and rhythmic precision of its continental cousins. Yet this youthful foursome from Berlin is not afraid to supercharge music with volume and kinetic energy. Making its third appearance in the Washington area in recent years, Artemis gave a magnificent concert on Wednesday evening at the Terrace Theater.

A blistering performance of Felix Mendelssohn's stormy String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13, allowed the ensemble's supple blended sound to appear one second and the individual tonal beauty of each player the next. Whether in the careening opening or the more elfin scherzo, this was a reading of uncommon style and proportion. When the solemn opening theme reappeared after the storm and stress of the preceding 20 minutes, the music was not so much repeated as enriched.

Strongly accented phrasing and well defined balances reaped a sleek Bartok String Quartet No. 2, Op. 17, the best moments of which came in the relentlessly braying and madcap second movement. An introspective opening and melancholic finale served as alluring if pungent bookends to this musical chaos.

In Robert Schumann's String Quartet in A, Op. 41, Artemis smartly tugged on the tempos and dynamics, highlighting this musical gem's underlying construction. Artemis's constant search for sparkle enriched the brilliant second movement and the tender adagio. A blazing finale rocketed this Washington Performing Arts Society-sponsored concert into the stratosphere.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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