After four days in blizzard seclusion, a few people were ready to hear some live music. While most of Washington remained closed Monday, the Kennedy Center opened its doors for a few performances, including an evening concert by France’s Thymos Quartet. The house manager of the Terrace Theater asked listeners to feel free to take empty seats closer to the stage, creating an atmosphere even more like a home concert.
One good reason to have made the effort to get across a city still only partly dug out from the weekend’s historic snowfall was the chamber music of Franz Schubert. The quartet opened with the composer’s String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, and the intimate feel of the evening seemed to encourage the musicians to lean in and find softer nuances in this delicate piece. Unfortunately, intonation was not always in place, and there were ensemble lapses, including some moments of confusion in the third movement.
Other problems troubled an even more magical Schubert piece, the “Trout” quintet for piano and strings. The piano, played with incisive force by Christoph Eschenbach amid his preparation of the National Symphony Orchestra’s European tour next month, seemed to need a visit by its tuner, wreaking further havoc on the ensemble intonation. Yann Dubost, on the double-bass part, had lovely solo turns, and cellist Delphine Biron enjoyed her increased freedom from the bass line in some beautiful duets with violist Nicolas Carles.
The musicians had faced bigger problems traveling to this concert than most of us in the audience. They had managed to get to a venue in North Carolina on Sunday, only to have the concert there canceled, which made the Kennedy Center the site of the world premiere of a new string quartet (No. 17, “The Winter’s Tale”) by French composer Olivier Dejours. It is a long and unwieldy piece, but with some melodic direction and textural variety to recommend it. Some of the faster sections in shifting meters sounded underprepared and not quite unified.
Downey is a freelance writer.