Music Review: Fessenden Ensemble Plays Mozart, Beethoven String Quartets

The Fessenden Ensemble's Mozart quartet was refreshingly sweet.
The Fessenden Ensemble's Mozart quartet was refreshingly sweet. (2008 Photo By J. Christian Parent)

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tuesday brought another enlightening concert to St. Columba's Episcopal Church by Washington's fine Fessenden Ensemble. The group offered Mozart and Beethoven string quartets, music rooted in classical Vienna's heady musical atmosphere.

The opener was Mozart's String Quartet in A, K. 464, a piece Beethoven reportedly considered his favorite of all Mozart's quartets. The piece is one of six that Mozart dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn, virtually the creator of the quartet medium. Although none was native Viennese, Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn form the triumvirate who set the tone for the outpouring of symphonies, chamber music and operas that cast a magical spell over Vienna into the 20th century.

The quartet gave a refreshing account of the Mozart piece, combining tonal sweetness with attention to the music's emotional subtleties. And the musicians touched the heart of Mozart's mysterious combination of conviviality with pathos. The andante variations were keenly etched as Mozart bounced along, now soulfully, now with surprising abandon.

Beethoven's early Quartet in G, Op. 18, No. 2, proved less assertive than expected, while the ensemble tended to wander -- perhaps partly due to the church's reverberant space. One wished for more of the adagio's classical urbanity. And some of the scherzo's coquettish reshuffling of melodic fragments and its harmonic twists passed the listener by. Yet, overall, the Fessenden captured the music's courtly Haydnesque grace and its occasional jaunty posture.

-- Cecelia Porter


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