I could hardly believe that I was sent to review this concert. For one thing, I don't recall that my editors told me about it before I found myself listed for it in the master calendar. It's a good thing they sent me only for the Friday concert of the two-concert set, because I'd already made a social commitment for Saturday evening by the time I found out about this.
For another thing: Beethoven, again. Not that I don't love Ludwig. But I have reviewed nearly twice as much Beethoven as any other composer, and this is the third time I have reviewed each of the three quartets on this program. Accordingly, even though I can't associate a given quartet's title with the music in my head as I can for Beethoven's symphonies, I didn't bother to listen to them beforehand, sure that I'd recognize everything in them in the concert as soon as I heard it.
Which was no problem, and remembering some of those earlier performances is what kept me focused on the ups and downs of this one. Beethoven's music is thought of as rough, but he writes some stunningly curvaceous melodies, which are darling when played with the right kind of neatly oiled grace. But that, more than anything else, is what was lacking in some otherwise technically amazing and vividly committed performances. Which, even more than the mention of David Soyer in the post-concert talk, is what brought the Guarneri Quartet to mind. I first heard the Beethoven quartets in recordings by the Guarneri and the Juilliard, the prestigious ensembles of the day, and they played just like this: heavy on the commitment and the energy, light on the beauty and the fun. As someone who didn't know the quartets at the time, I found them hard to get a grip on this way. It wasn't until I heard performances that differed markedly that I got to know and genuinely enjoy these works. Now I can appreciate any performance for its merits, but that's my reward for a heck of a lot of listening.