I desired this concert at Herbst primarily for the presence of a String Quartet in D by Respighi, a composer not usually thought of in terms of string quartets. And now I know why: it's an early work, in an accomplished but anonymous romantic-rhapsodic style, and except for a little in the finale is devoid of the crisp zest that characterizes Respighi's mature work.
That these players are interested in such dull corners was suggested by their encore, an Adagio (again with the very slow encores) likewise in an anonymous romantic-rhapsodic style, and likewise a very early and totally uncharacteristic work of the composer, this one being Webern. Listening to very early Romantic Webern is like listening to very early hearty Americanist Elliott Carter. The mature work may be repellent, but at least it's distinctive, individual, characteristically him. This early work isn't anybody.
Further anonymity was provided by a strange performance of Beethoven's Op. 131. Nominally in 7 movements, it's actually a single unbroken wad of music with abrupt mood changes. Rather than the movements sliding stealthily or arrestingly morphing into each other, in this performance it was like simply switching the view to a different facet. At the same time, the mood was unchanged throughout. No manic roughness or towering anguish; the Cremona performance was all cool, calm, collected. And rather dull: in particular the repetitions never gave any sense of saying something different than they had the first time, and thus became superfluous and rather irritating.
An early Boccherini quartet was more amenable to this approach, and benefited from a dry, steely playing style, but again the movements felt like facets and not like we were anywhere different.