The Aizuri Quartet, an up-and-coming group formed in 2012, made its Kennedy Center debut Monday in the Fortas Chamber Music series with an excellent program and some good playing. It was a Beethoven-centric evening, beginning with his Op. 18 No. 6, proceeding to Webern’s luminous “Langsamer Satz” (which invokes the otherworldly late quartets), followed by “Blueprint” by Caroline Shaw (which riffs off the finale of Op. 18 No. 6), and closing with Mendelssohn’s Op. 13, (which pays homage to Beethoven’s Op. 95 and 132 quartets).
“Blueprint,” written just last year for these musicians, was terrific. It starts with small motifs of this and that, but we soon hear shards of the Beethoven (both the somber intro and the frisky Allegretto section). Shaw deconstructs and recasts these motifs into a kaleidoscopic blend of old and new music, the textures sometimes melting into and at other times angrily interrupting one another. This bricolage felt perfectly natural despite its artifice, and for the first time ever, I write of the new work that it was too short.
For the rest, the Aizuri is a skillful, accomplished quartet, but it needs to learn to work a room better. The bone-dry acoustics of the Theater Lab require extra effort to create sonority, but the violin pizzicati in the Webern simply vanished, chords went unvibrated, and there was not enough projection in expressive passages. The players brought off rapid pianissimo passages with eclat, but in general they need to widen their range of sound. The two violinists traded places after the opening work, but I must observe that it should have been that way for the whole program (Ariana Kim’s tone is much better suited to the first chair). And I cannot imagine where these musicians got the idea that rewriting the simple Intermezzo tune in the Mendelssohn was okay.