The Modigliani Quartet was formed less than a decade ago but has already played in several of the area’s top venues, adding the Library of Congress to its credits Friday evening. This high-energy French foursome continues to season and develop, leavening its almost manic youthful energy with a touch of gravitas here and there.
In a nicely chosen program of Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 1, surrounded by much-less-well-known but deserving works of Juan Arriaga and Erno Dohnanyi, the Modigliani again displayed preternatural unanimity of ensemble and mostly excellent intonation. They are still young, and the frisson is still a little theatrical; more mature groups can play perfectly well together without the intense, soulful eye-contact this quartet practices. And tight ensemble is not the be-all and end-all. One thing that elevated the Guarneri and Amadeus quartets above their peers was the musical individuality of the players; they did not sound like one instrument.
Still, the Modigliani offered many pleasures. Arriaga’s Quartet No. 3 has a dreamy Pastorale movement that took wing under their caresses. They threw themselves into the stormy Dohnanyi Quartet No. 3 as if it were the last piece they’d ever play and left the audience exhausted. The Beethoven was less successful, as the interpretation often slighted or mixed up the detailed dynamic markings. The leader’s bow-arm continues to create problems for the group; raising his shoulder so high, he can neither execute a fast spiccato nor draw out a long, steady musical line. But the quartet nonetheless sounds better each time they come here, and their talent still sparkles.
Battey is a freelance writer.