You can't help but take a liking to these young men from Berlin--the Vogler Quartet, they call themselves, four musicians who delighted a Costa Mesa audience Friday night.
Offering an inventive and elegantly balanced program in the Founders Hall of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the string quartet members tore through nearly two centuries of music with verve.
Their reading of Haydn's Quartet in G, Opus 76, No. 1, was fluid and mathematical yet thoughtful. They were quirky and humorous in performing the rather odd "Minimax" quartet by Hindemith. And, accompanied by pianist Angela Cheng, they drew out all due passion and depth from Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat, Opus 44.
Vogler members launched Friday's program with the Haydn. From the jaunty, rollicking first movement to the sober Adagio, stately Minuet and dark, dreamy Finale, the quartet played with admirable precision and ensemble. Players passed motives among each other with ease and pursued the dynamic ebb and flow of the music as though four minds were one.
They defy stereotypes of dour Germanic accuracy, however. In lighter moments of the Haydn, the four men communicated a sense of humor among them, most evident in the sly grin by violist Stefan Fehlandt after ripping through a startling run in the first movement.
This sense of fun--restrained but infectious--was on full display in the Hindemith, which sounds more like the product of spoof-meister P.D.Q. Bach than the craggy, serious works for which the 20th century composer is remembered. Officially labeled Repertorium fur Militarmusik, the suite of six short pieces is better known by the nickname "Minimax," a title based on one of many private jokes woven into the music.
From the opening fanfare--complete with intentionally wrong notes all round and goofy glissandi in the cello--to jokey renditions of waltz tunes, silent-movie soundtracks and a polka, the piece is entertaining, accessible and not at all profound.
Quartet members had fun with this music without resorting to theatrics--merely rolling their eyes at each other in some of the more outrageous passages, for example. In one movement, violist Fehlandt and second violinist Frank Reinecke abruptly left to play a comical cadenza and snatches of Beethoven's Fifth offstage, following the composer's droll instructions but not milking the gag for more laughs than it was worth.
After intermission and an admirable solo performance of Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Opus 23, by pianist Cheng, the five sat down for the main course, Schumann's quintet. Shedding all frivolity, the musicians tackled the poetic work with earnest energy.
It was here the Vogler Quartet lived up to its growing reputation. Each member played his part with attention to the group but a distinctive musicality--passing the sad theme of the slow movement down the line from leader Tim Vogler to cellist Stephan Forck, for example, in a cohesive style that nonetheless was full of expressive contrast.
A full house rewarded the players with enthusiastic applause at every juncture, coaxing an encore--the scherzo from Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A, Opus 81--from them at the end of the evening. It was a concert that appealed to the heart, the mind and the funny bone, delivering everything we can ask of chamber music.