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-- Andrew Lindemann Malone
The Formosa Quartet, an impressive group only four years on the scene, made its Washington debut at the Library of Congress Friday night. This was the library's "Stradivari Anniversary Concert," an annual December event whereby a guest quartet is invited to play on the library's priceless Strads for a week and then present a concert. The Formosa was clearly thrilled at the opportunity, and made the most of it: The instruments enhanced an already superlative performance.
The Formosa's sound is fastidious but energetic. The musicians do not yet have the ease and command of the literature that more mature groups do, but their performance bespoke the most detailed macro- and microscopic preparation. Some of their rubatos sounded overrehearsed and a little dutiful, but the perfect unanimity (in the beginnings and endings of notes) paid special dividends. Intonation was wonderfully precise; in the Mozart Quartet No. 23, K. 590, the Strads rang out with perfectly centered harmonies.
The group also presented the Washington premiere of "Mei Hua," an attractive three-movement work by Houston-based composer Shih-hui Chen. The work was based on a traditional Taiwanese folk melody, refracted through conventional modern string devices such as glissandos, jet¿ bowings, and pizzicato strumming. With the color palette of Bartok and the driving rhythms of Ginastera, this fine piece might well gain a foothold in the repertory.
The concert ended with a clean, well-paced reading of the Brahms Quartet No. 3.
-- Robert Battey