MUSIC REVIEW : Juilliard Quartet Ends Beethoven Cycle

It was business as usual for the Juilliard String Quartet, ending its season-spanning cycle of the Beethoven quartets at Ambassador Auditorium on Saturday evening.

Happily, doing things better than others is the Juilliard’s usual business. What is commonplace for them--searching, vital, technically assured (if not always optimally polished) interpretations--is what most of the competition only aspires to. And again on Saturday, these artists--violinists Robert Mann and Joel Smirnoff, violist Samuel Rhodes, cellist Joel Krosnick--gave unstintingly of their experience and skill.

As usual, they worked hard and also made their audience work hard. In trademark Juilliard fashion, the program opener, in this instance the Quartet in D of Opus 18, was somewhat disheveled, with Mann’s violin in squawky voice, unable to find a firm sound-center. But technical matters were firmly in hand through three subsequent works: in F minor, Opus 95; in B-flat, also from Opus 18, and the composer’s last quartet, in F, Opus 135.

One had to be astonished at the sizzling pace taken for the opening of the B-flat quartet, that any ensemble could articulate with anything resembling clarity, let alone with the immaculate balance and solidity of tone exhibited by these artists. But the listener could also question the logic of choosing a tempo that obviated the music’s swaggering humor.


No such qualms about the evening’s concluding segment, however. Opus 135 unfolded with a depth of sonority, a mellowness and, when required, blazing intensity indicating why the Juilliard Quartet remains, after nearly 45 years before the public, one of our unique, irreplaceable institutions.