Whenever I hear a talented young string quartet these days, I say a little prayer for them. There are so many impediments to real viability in this field that merely making a go at it is a little like a third marriage: a triumph of hope over experience. Friday's area debut by the Verona Quartet, presented at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater by Washington Performing Arts, showcased a very promising group. Though still in an apprentice program at the New England Conservatory in Boston, the quartet has already won a raft of awards, performed on four continents and is premiering works by major composers.
There is no question of the Verona's technical address; ensemble and intonation are excellent, and passagework was secure throughout. At this still-early stage, it is hard to characterize the group's ethos (they've already had one personnel change), but they will need something beyond the "youthful vigor" that's front and center. Some tempos are too fast; listening to their breakneck "Allegretto" from Beethoven's Op. 59 No. 2, I could only guess what they think "Allegro" would sound like, and the "Vif et agité" from the Ravel quartet made few of its expressive points at that velocity. And while general rhythm was good overall, the few problems all involved longer notes being slightly too short, distorting the metrical feel of a phrase.
I enjoyed their new pair of pieces, Sebastian Currier's "Lullaby 1" and "Étude 2" — the first, a study in block chords, all with expressive swells and some curdled with quarter-tones; the second, a bustling kaleidoscope in the familiar style of Michael Torke or John Adams.
The Verona's biggest challenge is an imbalance between the upper and lower strings. Neither violinist produces the quantity or quality of sound that their two colleagues do, and that will be a factor as they seek the higher echelons of the profession. Good luck to them!