Fort Worth — The string quartet has long been the favorite genre of composers of chamber music for strings; the string quintet, though not really a stepchild or ignored cousin, has drawn much less attention through the centuries.
Saturday afternoon at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, on a concert presented by the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, the quintet genre held the spotlight as the Arianna String Quartet joined violist Richard Young for Quintets of Beethoven and Mendelssohn.
The Arianna Quartet clearly possesses a uniquely beautiful and substantial tone quality, even further enriched by the addition of Young to the mix. Indeed, the fullness of tone that the second viola adds to the ensemble makes one wonder why composers haven’t explored that particular combination more frequently.
The smoothly chordal opening phrase of Beethoven’s Quintet in C (Opus 29) immediately announced the wonderful resonance of this ensemble of two violins, two violas, and cello, introducing an opening movement in which classical structure and almost impulsive energy combine. Beethoven creates the sense of an extended opera aria in the second movement, with the first violin (John McGrosso) “singing” above the ensemble; and, after the dance-like third movement, the ensemble raced into the unfailingly energetic finale, in which Beethoven shows his humor by interrupting a sweet little minuet with fortissimo accents.
Mendelssohn’s Quintet in B-flat (Opus 87), meanwhile, shows an entirely different approach to the quintet configuration, with the Arianna Quartet with Young proving equal adeptness to this different take on the genre. Rather than the sense of five soloists coming together preferred by Beethoven, Mendelsohn leans much more toward the sense of a small orchestra, creating broader, almost symphonic effects. Otherwise, in this Quintet, Mendelssohn matches Beethoven’s energy levels, as exemplified by the busy intensity that opens the first movement. For this listener, the most intriguing moment came with the third movement, an extended Adagio which opened with and lingered in a sorrowful mood rare for Mendelssohn. Eventually, the movement arrives at the serenity more characteristic of Mendelssohn’s slow movements, before returning to the bold gestures (and treacherous passage-work, here performed flawlessly) of the final movement.
Between the Beethoven and the Mendelssohn, the Arianna Quartet (without guest Young) presented a somewhat surprising rarity: an early, beautifully lyrical Langsamer Satz (“Slow Movement”) by Anton von Webern, who, not long after composing this romantic tidbit, turned to the tightly organized, succinct dissonance for which he is remembered. Here, he reminds of Elgar and Strauss, with arching tunes and outbursts of passion; the Arianna Quartet proved that, even without the extra viola, they are an ensemble of extraordinary precision and depth.