In 1873 Verdi had some time on his hands. The man who was just about as productive as any composer was going through rehearsals for "Aida," and things got hung up because of a singer's illness. So the composer decided to write a string quartet -- a typical for a 19th-century musician, much less the 19th-century Italian.
He was rather diffident about the quartet, declining to let it be published for some time and treating it in general as if it were no more substantial than a superior crossword puzzle.
If Verdi thought it inconsequential, he was wrong. That was clear to the audience last nignt for the Chamber Orchestra of Turin at the University of Maryland's Center of Adult Education. The orchestra played a version for small string orchestra that the composer himself sanctioned.
The Quartet is a very individual work. It is full of sounds of Mendelssohn and of Beethoven, a man Verdi revered. Given the fact that "Aida" was on his mind, it is surprising that there is not more of that kind of sound in the quartet. The arid intensity of that opera is not evident in this music. The Quartet is closer in character to the Tchaikovsky Serenade than to "O patria mia." Maybe it is not a masterpiece, but it clearly bears the stamp of a master.
Last night it was beautifully tailored under Antonio Janigro's baton. The Turin group is another of those dulcet string chamber orchestras that seem to flow endlessly from Italy. And it is one of the better ones. Execution was precise and polished.
Earlier the group played baroque concertos. The dashing exuberance of the final movement of Vivaldi's A-major concerto from Op. 12 was a particular joy.