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Artis Quartet

Chamber Group Brings Austrian Sizzle To Kresge

By Andrew Wong

Agood chamber music performance should fill the concert hall with intense colors and emotions, transfix the listener’s mind in a musical world, and ultimately leave the audience with a feeling of awe towards the music itself. Chamber musicians must harness their individual solo skills and connect them together to form a unit that is capable of both playing as one and expressing personal sentiments.

The Artis Quartet displayed this level of playing on Friday evening with fascinating performances of Haydn’s C minor Quartet “The Rider,” Alban Berg’s String Quartet, Anton Webern’s Five Movements for String Quartet, and Alexander von Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No. 3.

The quartet, comprised of violinist Peter Schuyhmayer, violinist Johannes Meissle, violist Herber Kefer, and cellist Othmar MÜller, is an example of the long-respected Viennese tradition of string quartets. Their flawless ensemble playing, sensitivity to balance of tone and color, and lively gestures made the concert an enjoyable watching and listening experience.

With the opening bars of “The Rider,” the tightness of the ensemble became evident. Every change in dynamics, from the gradual to the abrupt, shimmered into the air as if a single musician was playing. The second movement, Largo assai, especially showcased the expressive powers of all four players and their abilities to complement each other.

As most chamber music concerts are these days, the next piece in the program leapt 150 years into the second Viennese school with Berg’s String Quartet, a two-movement work. Here, Artis further proved its commitment to all styles of music by presenting a wonderfully rapturous interpretation. Although the viola did become a bit raspy during intense passages, the quartet’s surprisingly elegant use of ponticello and artificial harmonics softened the hard and post-war sonority of contemporary music.

The program trekked deeper into the contemporary world with minimalist composer Webern’s Five Movements for String Quartet. Artis gave each movement a special character while all along obeying the careful placement of notes. Zemlinsky’s Quartet finished the program in a fury of post-romanticism. The third movement, Romanze, once again highlighted the passionate playing abilities of the quartet. With the torrential finale, Burlske, Artis drew to a close an incredible journey through the chamber music repertoire.

Kresge Auditorium once again stifled this beautiful performance with its poor acoustic elements and less-than-intimate setting -- a shame, as the quartet played on instruments by legendary makers Amati, Guadagnini, and Guarneri. Although the seats were not exactly packed, the audience received the quartet with much admiration. As the group came back to the stage to give another bow, first violinist Schumayer announced the special encore presentation of Beethoven’s Cavatina from String Quartet No. 13. By only looking at the faces of the musicians during their encore, one could see their intense love for performing. The beautiful melodies of Cavatina gave a fitting end to the concert.

The Artis Quartet is an inspired and passionate ensemble, and its members are extraordinarily compatible with each other. Formed in 1980 in Vienna, the quartet has won numerous competitions, recorded more than 20 albums for labels such as Koch International and Sony Classical, and is an annual performer at Vienna’s Musikverein. Each player possesses incredible talents in their own right. For example, backstage before the performance, Othmar MÜller gave a colossal run through the Elgar cello concerto, singing every chord to total ecstasy. As the group met to go upstage, their faces beamed with happiness as they sung lyric pieces in unison to warm up.

The musicians’ genuine and friendly personalities give sincerity to every concert and contribute to their stage presence as a well-respected ensemble. They are capable of many forms of tone expression and successfully interpret the music for the audience, making for a performance that was altogether delightful and exuberantly reciprocated as such by the audience.