Once again, the Fry Street Quartet returned to the Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center Auditorium for a splendiferous and much anticipated chamber music celebration.

The Fry Street Quartet was the first resident string quartet of the Western Piedmont Symphony, playing with the orchestra for three seasons from 1999 to 2002. This concert marks their sixth return since completing their residency.

The Fry Street Quartet was founded in 1997 in Chicago. Its members are William Fedkenheuer and Rebecca McFaul, violins, Russell Fallstad, viola, and Anne Francis, cello. Since 2002, they have been the Faculty String Quartet in Residence at Utah State University in Logan, where they continue to perform and teach.

In October, 2008, the quartet will be presenting the entire Beethoven Quartet Cycle over two weekends at the Caine School of the Arts of Utah State University. For this concert, they chose to give a taste of that cycle, playing a quartet from each of the three periods of Beethoven’s composition – early, middle, and late.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was nearly thirty before he first started composing string quartets. His first set of six were Opus 18, and it was the G Major Quartet, Op. 18, No.2, nicknamed “Compliments,” that opened the concert. It is an uncomplicated quartet, with structures and motifs much like those of Haydn. Sharp contrasts and conflicts are avoided, and humorous ideas flit through the music.

In sharp contrast, the String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (“Serioso”), from Beethoven’s middle period, followed. This is a very dark work, and its melodies do not flow smoothly. The music does not convey a sense of happiness on the part of the composer, possibly because of Beethoven’s despondency over his deafness and poor health.

The final quartet played was the E-flat Major Quartet, Op. 127. This was the first of Beethoven’s late period, and it was written almost fifteen years after Opus 95. It is a much larger work than those preceding it — it is twice as long and much more complex. The themes are not merely repeated but are transformed, and motifs are worked out in all sorts of different manners.

Performing the entire Beethoven string quartet cycle is a rite of passage for a professional quartet, and Fry Street has certainly reached that level. As I noted after their concert last year, they have grown and matured since their arrival in Hickory almost nine years ago. Their playing is solid and sure, and each member is attuned and responsive to the needs of the group and the music at hand. They are passionate about their playing, they are passionate about their audience understanding what they are playing, and they continue to bring excitement to the field of chamber music. As one would expect, the passion was returned by the audience in its standing ovation.

But wait, there’s more! As a grand finale for the program, the Fry Street Quartet was joined by the current resident string quartet, La Catrina, for a performance of the Allegro movement of the Octet in E-flat for Strings, Op. 20, by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47). Written when Mendelssohn was but sixteen, it is a fully mature work, still recognized as a masterpiece today. The composer created a new medium by combining two string quartets into a single ensemble, treating its members in every possible permutation, and creating vibrant colors not known before and rarely matched since.

Last year, when La Catrina (Daniel Vega-Albela and George Figueroa, violins, Jorge Martinez, viola, and Alan Daowz, cello) was introduced as the new resident string quartet, they played the final movement of the octet with Fry Street. The first movement, played in this concert, is longer and very orchestral in intensity. Indeed, Mendelssohn had directed that all the instruments play in symphonic orchestral style. La Catrina and Fry Street were up to the task, providing rich orchestral sounds in what seemed almost to turn into a small symphony. Again, the audience responded with enthusiastic recognition to a lively and dramatic performance.

And what will next year bring?