In conjunction with the exhibition Scandinavia Today, the Fresk String Quartet from Stockholm appeared at the Library of Congress last night, presenting a program that seemed a perfect antidote to the recent autumn chill. Unfortunately, the cool detachment of the players did little at first to warm Coolidge Auditorium.
Problems that plagued the group throughout the concert surfaced in the opening Haydn Quartet in G Major, Op. 64, No. 4. An uneven sound balance rendered cellist Per-Goran Skytt virtually inaudible. The grainy tone of violinists Lars Fresk and Hans-Erick Westberg masked the sunny lyricism Haydn lovingly applied to his score. Collectively, the quartet's cautious approach to the animated outer movements sacrificed poetry at the expense of precision in execution. This is music that requires brio, not kid gloves.
With Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar's Serenade in C Major (String Quartet No. 5, Op. 29), the Fresk Quartet displayed both self-assurance and spontaneity, as it outlined the delicate A minor melodic threads that swell and fade like conversational snippets in the Ballata section. This was a perfect warm-up to Barto'k's thorny Quartet No. 4. A lackluster traversal of the opening Allegro yielded to the dazzling display of pyrotechnics -- dispatched with forceful, if sometimes calculating abandon -- that bracketed the pivotal middle movement, a calm before the eventual storm in the closing section.