Fort Worth — Technical precision and impressive stamina marked the Berlin-based Atrium String Quartet’s performance at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on Saturday under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth. The group programmed three intense, engaging works, any one of which could have been the highlight of a program surrounded by less musically and technically demanding works. But the group’s youthful energy—the members are in their 20s and 30s—paid off, with no diminution of verve from the first note to the last.
The works on the program represented late Modernism, with Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 9 and Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, Métamorphoses nocturnes, and late Romanticism, in Grieg’s String Quartet No. 1. Technical prowess was impressive throughout—intonation, ensemble, and balance were all exceptional. The group evoked a wide variety of tonal colors in the first half, especially in the Shostakovich.
The ninth of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets was composed in 1964. It consists of five movements played without a break, or attacca. Its edginess reflects the notion, prevalent in Modernism, that music need not be beautiful to be striking. The Atrium Quartet amply supported this notion—they performed the quartet with, often, a deliberate ugliness that contained within it individual virtuosity.
The group excelled at making space for one another—Dmitry Pitulko’s viola theme in the second movement floated out initially, then made room for first violinist Sergey Malov’s lengthy solo turn. This moment typified the overall experience.
Rounding out the first half of the program was the Ligeti—it, like the Shostakovich, is performed attacca, but this time in 17 short, contrasting sections that, as the metamorphoses of the title would suggest, twist and turn in front of us. The Ligeti, though composed 10 years before the Shostakovich, sounds more contemporary, and stranger.
These two works together at the top of a program are a feat of endurance for the performers, a feat which all four musicians executed admirably.
The final work on the program, after intermission, was the Grieg. The issue here was that the atmosphere of the piece was not sufficiently distinct from the Shostakovich and the Ligeti. Although the third movement is marked “molto marcato,” the second is a Romance, and Grieg himself described the quartet as exemplifying “soaring flight.” Though technically exceedingly impressive, the quartet’s expression stayed in the Modernist vein here and never took that flight that Grieg apparently desired. To be fair, though, after the pyrotechnics of the first half of the program, perhaps the birds of the Atrium Quartet were just too tired to soar.
The Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth continues to present exemplary chamber music from groups both local and international, in the lovely atmosphere of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. If you’re not a Fort Worth resident, you’ll find that these concerts are an ideal opportunity to make a day of it. You can have lunch at the Café at the Modern, and see exhibits at the Modern and the Kimbell: treats for all the senses.