As the Library of Congress restoration continues, resident groups have sought temporary quarters elsewhere. The National Academy of Sciences auditorium is now home away from home for the Juilliard String Quartet, which proved Friday night that a larger, more acoustically inert environment makes little difference when musicians are determined to project.
The Juilliard's animated performance extended through a program of Mozart, Elliott Carter and Ravel. After recurring intonation problems in the first two movements, Mozart's Quartet in D Minor, K. 173, took on a forceful dignity capped by some exquisitely delicate playing during the finale's waning measures. The quiet was short-lived, however, once cellist Joel Krosnick launched into the cadenza that opens Carter's String Quartet No. 1, an attempt to "freeze" time musically and thus break away from a standard chronological procession of ideas. Violinists Robert Mann and Joel Smirnoff countered the gruff commentary of Krosnick and violist Samuel Rhodes with sustained tonal harmonies reminiscent of Samuel Barber in the second movement of a work whose intricacy requires great precision and stamina, which the Juilliard had in reserve.
What might have seemed like an emotional letdown -- following Carter with Ravel's Quartet in F -- actually proved otherwise, for the group pushed this piece to the brink of hysteria at times, particularly with its revved-up balalaika treatment of the second movement and the Dionysian frenzy expressed in the finale. If Ken Russell ever decides to do a movie on Ravel, he might consider the Juilliard Quartet for the soundtrack.