When I read a preview of Chamber Music Monterey Bay’s presentation of the Daedalus Quartet, the first question in my mind was: am I going to enjoy this concert? The program consisted of what appeared to be piece of juvenilia by Haydn (his very first quartet), a contemporary work by Mieczysław Weinberg (never heard of him), and ended with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, (at 40 minutes duration, sort of the Hammerklavier of string quartets). Was I ever wrong! These four amazing musicians — violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Thomas Kraines — spun magic right from the opening of the Haydn to the very last note of the Beethoven.
What appeared on paper to be a piece of juvenilia by Haydn, turned out to be work of vitality and charm that spanned the centuries and commanded our attention throughout. What was most beguiling was the precise and stylish playing, with magnificent clarity and attention to detail in matters of tempo, dynamics, instrumental mastery and phrasing. Especially impressive was the players’ control of dynamics, for we heard a broad range of colors from the quietest pianissimo to full-blooded fortes, all with such natural shaping of phrases that the playing had an inevitable quality about it — as though you couldn’t imagine the work played any other way.
The String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 66, by Mieczysław Weinberg was the next big surprise of the evening. This seven-movement work idiomatically written for string instruments and remarkably listener-friendly, spans a variety of styles, including some delightful elements of Klezmer music. The excellent program notes by Kai Christiansen served as a helpful reminder of Poland’s tragic history and the suffering endured by Weinberg. That he endured and survived these terrible conditions is remarkable in itself, but that he should have had the resilience to internalize his suffering and create such an important work as the quartet we heard last night whets our appetite to hear more of his works.
During the second half of the program the Beethoven String Quartet had a hard act to follow after we had been charmed and electrified by Haydn and Weinberg. But, Beethoven is Beethoven, and the majesty and breadth of his greatest works never fails to envelop us in its own special magic. We heard a lot of very fine playing that increased our already very high opinion of the magnificent Daedalus Quartet.
Peninsula Reviews – Lyn Bronson, editor
by Lyn Bronson
February 26, 2017