Halfway through the second movement of the Shostakovich Quartet No. 8 at the Corcoran last night, a viola string snapped, as if to protest the brutal beating it was taking.
With it went the electric tension the Tokyo String Quartet had created as the modal, slow opening unfolded, its four-note motif giving way to the frenetic activity of the allegro. The audience gasped, then applauded; first violinist Peter Oundjian cracked a joke ("This piece is usually played totally without interuptions"). Then the quartet started from the beginning, acknowledging the unified integrity of the piece. The drama was just as evident the second time around, and the musical pathos was drawn out to sonorous extremes by the Tokyo ensemble in an unusually expansive frame of mind.
The quartet was joined, after intermission, by pianist Jeffrey Kahane for a tight and highly charged performance of the Dvora'k A Major Piano Quintet. Here, there was unusual care and premeditation apparent in a biting reading of the scherzo and a finale that was quick but not breathless. The Dumka, the heart of the work, was marvelously broad and painted with a rich palette of colors.
The concert opened with a pallid performance of the Mozart "Hunt" Quartet. The Tokyo tends to handle Mozart with kid gloves, as if afraid of being too rough or familiar. Mozart's discourse was as comfortable to him as rock music is to us today, and if the Tokyo ensemble could immerse itself in the genial grace of that period, it might present his music in a more interesting fashion. --Joan Reinthaler