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Julliard String Quartet delivers emotional concert

JUILLIARD STRING QUARTET

All-Mozart program.

Jordan Hall, March 3, 3 pm.

By DAVID ZAPOL

THE JUILLIARD STRING QUARTET is heralded as one of the great quartets of our time. Their all-Mozart concert on Sunday made clear the reason for this reputation. The performers' unambiguous approach to Mozart made the concert a tremendously emotional experience, striking a wonderful balance between the romantic Mozart and the precise Mozart.

The program began with a real showpiece for the ensemble's dynamic balance. The Quartet in E-flat, K. 171 is a gem, though, like many of Mozart's string quartets, it is often performed as a violin concerto. The melody is predominately in the first violin part, and so it takes a skilled group to make it a real ensemble piece. The Juilliard's impeccable performance perfected the balance, with no individual being the leader, and the individuals all knowing exactly where the group was going. It resembled a jazz performance where each person has a solo, except that here the solo was passed around every few measures while the first violin carried the theme. It is hard to convey the complex layering that was going on, but it was carefully-thought out and worked well, sounding clear and often resembling a lullaby.

Possibly the most exciting part of the entire performance came when the first violinist, Robert Mann, played a solo while the three other instruments strummed pizzicato. The ensemble was so in time and in tune with itself that it sounded like a guitar. This was during the Quartet in D Minor, K. 421, a gorgeous piece featuring complicated interplay between Mann and the other violinist, Joel Smirnoff. In flawless unison, they played in octaves a melody so sweet that it made the audience gasp. The unity in the group was unbelievable. It became clear that when the performers had a real understanding of what they wanted from the music, they created perfect musical images.

For the last work, the Quintet in E-flat, K. 614, Samuel Rhodes, the Juilliard's violist, was joined by Michael Tree, the violist and founding member of the Guarneri Quartet. The ensemble sat with the two violins facing the two violas, and the cello sitting at the head, facing the audience.

Tree's viola sounded as beautiful as its voluptuous wood looked. It had tremendous bass range and made the energy of the daring pace even more exhilarating. The Juilliard Quartet's ability to immediately draw the audience in was enhanced by Tree's obvious enjoyment of the music.

A group of professional musicians with a similar wonderful attitude is a rare find. The Juilliard String Quartet is a must-see for anyone who loves passionate music.