It is always exciting to encounter a chamber group whose members have the technique and musicality to cope with their repertoire and the temperament to subordinate individuality to the greater good of the ensemble. The Mendelssohn Quartet, now in its fourth year, is just such a group. Their well-chosen and superbly performed program last night at the University of Maryland's Tawes Recital Hall was marked by a sensitivity to sonority and an elasticity of phrasing that is generally associated with far more seasoned players.
Mozart's second "Prussian" quartet, K. 589, opened the program; the interpretation was straightforward, avoiding excesses that would only have gotten in the way of the clearly delineated structures. Taut ensemble playing and an appropriate tempo gave the contrapuntal sections of the finale perfect clarity.
The first half of the program closed with an early Mendelssohn work, his Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13. If the outer movements were played rather more exuberantly than was always desirable, they were nonetheless exciting and were handled with utmost precision. The players perfectly captured the ethereal sonorities of the intermezzo movement, thereby forecasting the delights ahead in their closing offering, the Ravel Quartet in F.
It would be difficult to imagine a more elegant performance of this well-known yet ever-fresh work. The range of timbres and dynamics demanded by Ravel was traversed with apparent ease, and his refined melodies and transparent textures were accorded the fullest attention. The audience's obvious satisfaction with this performance called for an encore, the opening fugue of Charles Ives' First Quartet. It was a beautiful way to end an exquisite evening of chamber music.