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Union: Orion Quartet: Two Beethoven Concerts

Beethoven: Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4
Beethoven: Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5
Beethoven: Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6
Beethoven: Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3
Beethoven: Quartet in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131
Beethoven: Quartet in F Major, Op. 135

Orion Quartet
Daniel Phillips, violin
Todd Phillips, violin
Steven Tenenbom, viola
Timothy Eddy, cello


[Note: This reports the last two of six concerts presenting the complete quartets of Beethoven.]

The relatively young but throroughly impressive Orion Quartet capped the year-long series of complete Beethoven string quartets Friday and Saturday evening at the Union Theater, on both occasions garnering thunderous applause from grateful audiences.

In each of the three quartets Op. 18, Nos. 4-6, there was ample opportunity for brilliant playing in a relatively clean, straightforward classical style. My initial impression was that it was a little too straightforward, perhaps not individual enough, but I soon came to feel that the group's rather understated approach was a matter of artistic choice, for in more lyrical or introspective movements, there was all the warmth, delicacy and espressivo one could ask for.

The Friday program featured the last quartet (op. 135), which had a couple very small rough spots near the start, but reached the pinnacle of quartet perfection in its final two movements. The C Major quartet, Op. 59, No. 3 ended the Friday program, with outstanding playing in the first movement and a breathtaking (but successful) tempo in the last movement.

I probably wasn't the only one who thought the best was saved for last. The Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131 is extraordinary in a number of ways. It has seven movements, for instance: three slow and four fast. In addition, it involves sonorities that no one before Beethoven had ever used. It is complex in ways even some 20th-century music is not. The Orion's performance was a deep dive into the work's possibilities, and it was especially so in the domain of emotional intensity.

A satisfying finish to a wonderful series, I must say.

Isthmus, April, 1997
Copyright 1997 Jess Anderson

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