Calidore Quartet makes a subtly nuanced Kennedy Center debut

Calidore String Quartet
Washington Classical Review

Formed in 2010, the Calidore String Quartet has been racking up significant awards and fellowships in its short life. The Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series presented the ensemble’s Kennedy Center debut Wednesday night, in a Hungarian-themed program at the Terrace Theater.
The reason for their rapid rise was immediately evident: an intense but soft sound, perfectly balanced among the four instruments.

The group’s approach was optimal for the opening Haydn work, the String Quartet in D Major, known as “The Lark.” The musicians ambled through the first movement, setting a chummy tempo that suited the low-key humor of the music. First violinist Jeffrey Myers displayed impeccable intonation, suspending the movement’s main theme on his sweet tone, as if buoyed by a puff of air; his light touch likewise conveyed why the little chirpy cadenza gave the work its nickname.

Not all string quartets understand the importance of understatement in Haydn’s music, but the Calidore used it to their advantage in the slow movement as well where all the complex variations locked into place. The only misstep was the Menuetto, taken too fast for the tempo marking of Allegretto, with the playful chromatic grace notes and the details of the contrapuntal trio flying by in a blur. The fourth movement, even at its brilliant tempo featuring the extraordinary facility of Myers’s left hand in the constant runs for first violin, had less of a striking contrast as a result.

Second violinist Ryan Meehan spoke engagingly about the most recent work on the program, Officium breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky by Hungarian composer György Kurtág. The piece is an homage to both Szervánszky, a friend of Kurtág’s, and Anton Webern, one of Kurtág’s musical idols. Like much of Webern’s music, this work’s fifteen brief movements, some as short as a few seconds, are rarefied distillations of sound, wisps of intense flavor like consommé.

After the yowl of anger in the fourteenth movement, marked “Disperato, vivo,” Kurtág quotes the backbone of the piece, a section of music by the work’s namesake. A major chord crept into the air from the lower strings, over which the two violins mused over this dulcet tune. Just at the moment of greatest yearning, where one’s ear leaned in to hear the exquisite resolution to follow, the piece ended abruptly, an apt musical metaphor for the death of a composer.

Read the rest of the review here