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The Pavel Haas Quartet played a brilliant concert at the Library of Congress.
The Pavel Haas Quartet played a brilliant concert at the Library of Congress. (By Marco Borggreve)

-- Rebecca J. Ritzel

Guarneri String Quartet

The Guarneri String Quartet floated through its all-Beethoven concert at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center on Friday with a remove that was astonishing, particularly given that the B-flat Quartet, Op. 130, with its "Grosse Fuge" finale, was on the program. Violinists Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley, violist Michael Tree and cellist Peter Wiley honed their signature pianissimos to the just barely audible on the opening "Harp" Quartet, Op. 74, a piece that's a throwback to Beethoven's less angst-ridden days and that can do with a little calm and understated lyricism (although some injection of a sense of joy would not have been amiss). The reading was tidy and contained, and what warmth the performance did give off came from the viola and was very welcome.

But the Guarneri seemed to be running on autopilot through much of the intense Op. 130 and the concluding fugue (and not a well-adjusted autopilot, judging from coordination glitches in the second-movement Presto). Some of this music is almost scary. It's full of brutal contrasts, and figuring out how to explode out of their stunning pianissimos should be a no-brainer for these artists, but explosions don't seem to be in their repertoire. Explosions take passion and energy and emotional involvement and all of these seemed in short supply. The middle Andante, Alla Danza Tedesca and Cavatina movements fared better and were delivered delicately and transparently.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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