For the opening last night of the Terrace Theater's chamber music series the Kennedy Center amassed just about the biggest guns that can be placed in this lowest key realm of the musical arts.
The string quartet group was the Guarneri String Quartet and the principal string quartet composition was Beethoven's late B-flat major quartet, Op. 130.
The Guarneri playing this colossal work nestled in the intimate confines of the Terrace Theater was a rare luxury. As the Guarneri showed recently in the Mostly Mozart Festival, the group is of such popularity that it can fill the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall with far lesser fare than Op. 130.
The Guarneri normally plays a work such as Op. 130 without an emphasis on the work's cosmic and metaphysical dimensions that one might hear from the Juilliard at the Library of Congress. Of the six movements, the one that was most captivating was the fourth, which is a sort of waltz, framed in a heavily contrapuntal superstructure.
This grazioso element was a recurring thread through much of the concert. There was a deft, elegant performance of Hugo Wolf's witty, ironic Italian Serenade.
Also, there was a rarity, a real Italian serenade. It was the "Crisantemi" of Puccini (one does not get the link of the title with the flower). It's an early work, full of catchings from "Manon Lescaut," which he was writing at the same time. The playing was rich and ardent.
There was the opposite of richness and ardency just before it, with Stravinsky's "Three Pieces." These are cryptic, enigmatic little works that came soon after "The Rite of Spring," and they sound more like experiments than mature conceptions.
The Guarneri opened with Mendelssohn's F minor quartet, his last major work. It is full of Schumannesque tensions, and raises questions about where Mendelssohn's creative leanings might have gone but for his early death: perhaps in the direction Brahms would develop? The Guarneri played the work sumptuously.