I signed up to hear the Chiaroscuro and Modigliani Quartets, both at Herbst four days apart, because they were both playing some of my favorite early 19C repertoire. Each had a Beethoven and a Schubert. Chiaroscuro played Beethoven's Op. 95, which is probably his gnarliest, and Schubert's one-movement "Quartettsatz", but their major piece was Mendelssohn's Op. 13, a tribute to late Beethoven that's my favorite Mendelssohn quartet. Modigliani played Beethoven's Op. 18 No. 3, probably his lightest and most cheerful, and gave the major spot on the program to Schubert's huge and dark "Death and the Maiden" Quartet, filling out the program with Puccini's tiny memorial piece Chrysanthemums.
Chiaroscuro's gimmick is that they play on old-fashioned gut strings. Or so they say. The sound was boxy and woody, as you'd expect from that claim, but they played in such a modern manner, fast and more concerned with drama than with emotional expressiveness, that this negated the antiquity of the sound quality. I wonder about the authenticity here. The players didn't retune anywhere near as much as verified gut-string players I've heard. Maybe their strings were gut-wound instead. While their Beethoven and Schubert were fine, it was the Mendelssohn that conveyed a sense of the spread and depth of the piece.
Modigliani's style is smooth and clear. They sailed so placidly through the charming Beethoven that I wondered if they'd have anything saved up in their emotional box for Schubert. It turned out they mustered up volume and vehemence just fine; what was missing was emotional impact, a sense of tragedy. It wasn't a hollow performance, just not as affecting as it was arresting.
And next week, it's the Emerson Quartet with another similar program, with Beethoven plus Haydn and Mozart instead of Schubert. And that'll be my last Herbst concert of the season.