To the already numerous ranks of super-accomplished American string quartets can now be added the name of the Ying Quartet, four siblings out of suburban Chicago who proved equal to an exceptionally demanding program on Sunday at Schoenberg Hall on the UCLA campus.
A daring choice for an opener, the 18-year-old Felix Mendelssohn's very substantial A-major Quartet, Opus 13--its blithe melodies mask considerable technical difficulties--began tentatively, with an ill-balanced Allegro, the viola insufficiently audible for much of its duration. But by the fanciful Intermezzo the playing had achieved the requisite delicate balances and elegant finish.
The most concise and cranky of Bartok's quartets, the third, elicited a powerful response from the Yings: violinists Timothy and Janet, violist Phillip, cellist David. Nearly any of today's young chamber ensembles can handle Bartok's once-frightening rhythmic exigencies with something resembling ease; few are able to go beyond them, to expose the score's formal logic and its gnarled lyricism, as perceptively as do these players.
Brahms' dark-chocolate colored Quartet in B flat, Opus 67, benefited from the Ying's middleweight, compact ensemble tone and refusal to let the score wallow in its own affability. There was welcome tension here, culminating in a warm, yet propulsive reading of the shadowy third movement, dominated, as the composer intended, by the viola.