Great Barrington — If you ever present a concert titled “The Art of the String Quartet,” you’d better hire musicians who exemplify the very highest standards of chamber music performance. Their ensemble must be impeccable, their intonation flawless, their tone rich when it should be rich and glassy when it should be glassy. Their enthusiasm onstage must be palpable and irresistibly infectious. They must be indomitable in the face of the genre’s most harrowing scores. All these requirements were met on the evening of April 15 at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center when Close Encounters with Music (CEWM) introduced Adam Barnett-Hart, Aaron Boyd, Pierre Lapointe, and Brook Speltz, better known as the Escher String Quartet.
The program’s opener, Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F minor, opus 80, was no warm-up number. Sure, Mendelssohn’s music is more immediately accessible to most listeners than the jagged, alien sounds of Bela Bartók. But Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet is, from the get-go, highly demanding of all players, and within the first few measures it was clear that these four men would keep the crowd on the edge of their seats for the rest of the evening.
The Escher gleefully overwhelmed Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet. They crushed it. And now, the remainder of the program looked more promising than ever.
Bartók’s Quartet No. 3 is, as CEWM Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani advised in his opening remarks, not the kind of music one casually sings along with. But its emotional urgency, novel string articulations, and path-breaking use of harmony and color made this piece compelling, exhilarating, and satisfying.
After intermission came Beethoven’s Quartet in E minor, opus 59, No. 2, the second of three quartets commissioned by Russian Ambassador Andreas Razumovsky. By now, the Mahaiwe audience had gotten a pretty good idea of what they were in for: a vigorous, decisive, and impossibly tight performance of Beethoven’s second “middle period” quartet. That’s exactly what they got. And when any worthy quartet is performed with such verve and precision, it’s a revelation.