There are few musical pleasures as rewarding as an evening of Beethoven string quartets, especially when interpreted with the poetic insight exhibited by the Cleveland Quartet Saturday night at the University of Maryland.
The group touched on all three periods of his career, from the progressive classical design of the Quartet No. 3 in D, Op. 18, No. 3, through the first of the "Razumovsky" quartets in F, Op. 59, No. 1, to the stressful, yet ultimately triumphant "Grosse Fuge," Op. 133. However, the quartet's decision to offer an all-Beethoven concert was a last-minute move, one intended as a tribute to the composer's 215th birthday Dec. 17.
Crisp ensemble work, meticulous phrasing and buoyant tempos made for a fleet yet hardly tossed-off reading of the D major. In the "Grosse Fuge" the Cleveland accentuated this single (and singular) movement's schizoid extremes; the fugal dissonances fairly screeched at times, while the lyrical moments had a loving tenderness.
Their most persuasive playing occurred in the F major quartet. Paul Katz's large and warm cello tone stating the first movement's opening theme was a harbinger for the bold master strokes to come. Gusto and color prevailed, but never at the expense of communication. The third-movement adagio in F minor, in particular, could scarcely have been more expressive.