The audience in Fletcher Opera Theater on the afternoon of May 7 was perfectly quiet as Daedalus String Quartet cellist Raman Ramakrishnan began the pp notes that open Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132. He had hardly started when the sound of some idiot's cell phone filled the virtually silent hall! This aural vandalism, like spray painting an icon, was the only blot on an otherwise superb afternoon of chamber music. The Daedalus String Quartet, founded in the summer of 2000, won the Grand Prize of the Banff International String Quartet Competition only one year later. They have racked up an impressive stack of glowing reviews. The ensemble has been appointed the quartet for CMS Two, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's residency program for young artists and ensembles, for both the 2005-6 and 2006-7 seasons. The qualities that have earned rosettes for the quartet were all on display throughout a wide-ranging program in Raleigh. Brother and sister violinists Kyu-Young Kim and Min-Young Kim alternate on first violin. Min-Young led the first half and Kyu-Young led the last half of the program.
The serene and clear interplay of musical lines of four Contrapuncti from J. S. Bach's Art of Fugue opened the concert. I am afraid that Min-Young's "New Age" and too-long comments about spirituality conjured up cynical visions of tie-died T-shirts, candles, you-know-what smoke, and Ravi Shankar riffs – a '60s flashback. Masterful playing quickly cleared the cobwebs. The siblings match their intonation, phrasing, and tone unusually closely, truly playing as one when the score calls for it. Critics of string arrangements of the Bach carp that some of the musical lines were meant to be implied or inferred from their being partially played on a keyboard. The beauty of the viola's line was brought out splendidly by Jessica Thompson in the last two fugues.
Benjamin Britten's compositions are too little programmed in the Triangle, and the last outing for his String Quartet No. 2 in C, Op. 36 (1945), played by the Emerson String Quartet October 9, 2004, was disastrous, with the audience and the ensemble under a cloud. The dark, emotionally-draining quality of the work reflects Britten's experience accompanying Yehudi Menuhin on a tour of Germany to play for the survivors of the Holocaust. The last movement, "Chacony," a simple theme repeated over and over, reflects the fact that the piece was a commission to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of Purcell. The Daedalus musicians made the best possible case for the Britten with translucent playing, nuanced dynamics, and a refined tone palette. The 21 variations of the last movement were spun out with a culminating sense of inevitability.
Once past the sonic disfigurement of the cell phone, the Daedalus Quartet swept up listeners in a breathtaking performance of Beethoven's String Quartet in A minor. The dynamics were subtle, and elements of the work's structure were unusually clear. The heart of the work, the third movement, marked by the composer as "Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian Mode," was transcendent as the varied versions of a hymnal theme conjured up an otherworldly stillness. The ensemble ought to commit their interpretation to CD.
The Daedalus's encore brought shades of Scott Joplin. Each player was featured in turn over the course of the delightful syncopations of "Rampart Street Rowhouse Rag," a movement from String Quartet No. 1, "At the Octoroon Balls," by Wynton Marsalis.
The concert marked the end of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's Masters Series for 2005-6.