It is a rare talent indeed that turns Mozart and Beethoven into a soporific, and such a talent was candidly displayed by the Rowe String Quartet in its Kennedy Center debut Thursday night. An ensemble with vitality and good intentions on its side, it also boasted very strong lower strings; yet there was an air of stylistic confusion hanging over the Terrace Theatre.
Mozart's Quartet in A Major, K. 464, looked ahead in time, with dynamic liberties taken and crude romanticism replacing classical elegance. The minuet in particular, which was played third against the indications of both the score and the program notes, was particularly crude. Beethoven's Quartet 13 in B-flat Major, on the other hand, looked back to rhythmic rigidity. The pitch of the violins can only be described as creative in the first allegro, which was also devoid of any signs of life.
Then there was life, at the core of the program. Bartok's String Quartet No. 2 allowed the viola and the cello to shine, and the dynamic mannerisms of the group only added to the sense of urgency of this modern masterpiece. Cellist Luca Dicecco, in particular, soared with sounds like those of a generous dramatic tenor willing to blend in a glorious choir. The savage, slow finale also offered a homogeneity of sound that would have been welcome in the Mozart quartet.
The choice of three very heavy and very long piece for an evening of chamber music would call for all the delicacy and strength of our best groups. The Rowe String Quartet, regrettably, is not yet in that category.