Czechoslovakia, with surely the highest per capita incidence of string quartets of any nation on Earth, has traditionally exported ensembles characterized by raw emotionalism and ethnic heft. The newer breed of Czech quartet, exemplified by the Talich String Quartet, which opened the 1988-89 season of Music Guild concerts at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Wednesday, favors a more subtle and clarifying interpretive stance.
Thus, Wednesday’s audience was treated to playing of exceptional lucidity, lightness of tone and emotional restraint, but by no means undernourished in any interpretive or sonic detail.
Janacek’s Second Quartet, which capitalizes on thematic fragmentation and lightning dynamic alternations, proved no less compelling in the Talich’s darting, flickering view than in the frenetic, heavyweight readings their Czech forebears have promulgated as idiomatic gospel over the years.
The last quartet of Beethoven, in F, Opus 135, a concert hall rarity outside the context of Beethoven cycles, was played for its intrinsic worth, as the most svelte and least solemn of late-Beethoven. The sweet-toned, low-key approach of the players--violinists Petr Messiereur and Jan Kvapil, violist Jan Talich, cellist Evzen Rattay--succeeded in charming rather than assaulting the ear.
The Ravel Quartet, while far too frequent a component of local programming, was on this occasion at least treated not as a thrashing-and-wailing emotional purgative but as somewhat of a jeu d’esprit, with becoming refinement of tone and sensibility. French music as the French used to play it in the days when they, too, were producing world-class string quartets: with airborne grace and terrific rhythmic snap.