As a concert venue, the handsome--visually and acoustically--William Andrews Clark Library is for the happy few, but not only the wealthy happy few.
The Shanghai Quartet's concert there on Sunday afternoon combined upmarket music-making and a budget ticket price for the hundred-plus souls who filled the UCLA-administered facility on West Adams Boulevard.
Sunday's program opened with an immaculately tuned (not all major quartets play with the rock-steady accuracy of these people) presentation of Mozart's last quartet, K. 590, treated not as wistful "final music," but with propulsiveness and the big, yet compact tone--no slow vibratos here--that characterizes this remarkably well-balanced ensemble's sound and style.
In the concluding work, Beethoven's Third "Rasumovsky" Quartet, the Shanghai delivered the composer's excitable stanzas with heady drive, tension barely subsiding even in the slow movement. But, heated as the playing was, the shape of a phrase was never obscured, nor did its aggressive stance translate into stridency of tone.
In Beethoven, only slightly more than in Mozart, the Shanghai--violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li and cellist James Wilson--displayed an interpretive style based on physical energy and primary coloring. Which, when delivered with the ensemble's splendid technical facility, results in performances that bristle with tension.
Also heard was "Song of the Ch'in" by Chinese composer Zhou Long (b. 1953), a Shanghai Quartet signature piece.
The ch'in is a seven-stringed Chinese zither, whose sound and compositional requirements are colorfully evoked on Western instruments by Zhou, with plucked glissandos, bowed keening and delicate percussive effects.
Incidental intelligence: There will be another opportunity this season to hear major chamber music at a minor price at the Clark Library: a concert by the Lafayette Quartet on April 30.