The Carducci String Quartet is a fine young Anglo-Irish ensemble, much praised for its interpretations of contemporary music. It’s also, curiously enough, made up of two married couples — prompting the inquiring mind to wonder how marital dynamics affect the music. What happens when conjugal spats break out — are ill-considered eighth-notes hurled angrily across the room? And, after a fight, should we avert our eyes for the inevitable makeup duet?
Well, probably none of our business. Suffice it to say that, in their appearance at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Saturday afternoon (courtesy of the Washington Performing Arts Society), the Carducci players displayed a deep and almost familial sense of unity in everything they played. The program was strictly mainstream — Haydn, Beethoven and that newfangled Dvorak fellow — and the playing was much the same, erring perhaps on the side of caution but full of life and vitality nonetheless.
Haydn’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3, got the afternoon rolling and proved a good fit for the Carducci. Haydn’s quartets often come off best when not polished to glossy perfection (humor and rough edges go well together, after all) and the ensemble dug into the work with a likable directness and down-to-earth, relaxed enthusiasm. There were moments — as in the soggy Menuet — when you wished they’d stop being so polite and land a few punches, but first violinist Matthew Denton injected personality and great charm to the proceedings, leaving little to quibble about.
Dvorak’s summery, light-filled Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, the “American,” is famous for its quoting of a scarlet tanager (or “this damned bird,” as the composer called it) that had nested right outside his window. But it’s also a masterful rendering of that elusive thing called the “American spirit,” and the Carducci brought out the quiet confidence and late-19th-century optimism that run through the work. The extravagantly beautiful Lento, awash in luminous melancholy, was a particular joy.
A wobbly and insecure opening threatened to derail Beethoven’s Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, but the ensemble pulled together for the work’s central, hymn-like Adagio. Subtitled “A Sacred Song of Thanks From One Made Well, to the Divine,” it was written after Beethoven recovered from a serious illness, and it contains some of the most profound and personal music he ever wrote. The Carducci brought it off with deep, simmering power, and the lilting rapture of the final Allegro appassionato made a fine close to the afternoon.
Brookes is a freelance writer.