Madison Music Review Header
HomeReviews Features Profiles Links
Up Previous Index Next Down
Pro Arte: Beethoven, Dvorak, Bartok

Beethoven: Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5
Dvorak: Five Cypresses for String Quartet

I know that on my Love to Thee
Never Will Love Lead Us to that Glad Goal
In Deepest Forest Glade I Stand
Thou Only Dear One, But for Thee
Nature Lies Peaceful in Slumber and Dreaming
Bartok: Quartet No. 5

Pro Arte Quartet
David Perry, violin
Suzanne Beia, violin
Sally Chisholm, viola
Parry Karp, cello


The Op.18 quartets of Beethoven are often compared to Haydn in a variety of ways, yet mention of Haydn causes some music-lovers to raise their eyebrows, as though he were not fully worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Mozart or Beethoven. This actually happened Friday evening as I chatted with a friend while waiting for the doors of Mills Hall to open for the first program of the new season by the Pro Arte Quartet.

As I listened to what proved to be a first-rate performance of the Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5, with its countless premonitions of musical ideas not fully realized until Beethoven's late period, I kept thinking about Haydn. Haydn provided the main musical dialect within the sonata form that Beethoven elaborates with amazing drama and diversity, as well as with extraordinary independence of the four parts, in the A major quartet's outer movements, while the minuet and variations between are a direct homage to Mozart.

The performance was scaled within classical concepts of elegant restraint and attention to detail, with brilliant, clean bravura in the first violin, flawless ensemble and impressive subtlety overall. In the variations especially, the Pro Arte's manner of shaping and rounding off phrases was particularly gratifying.

The Dvorák pieces were completely unknown to me. They exhibit considerable sweetness, grace and charm, the fourth one especially. But it was fairly pale fare, given what came before and after.

The big event was of course the Bartók, which the Pro Arte attacked with incredible fervor -- perhaps four times as much sound as the Beethoven. For all that it is intensely dynamic and dramatic, as well as densely packed with musical events, it's also a very classical piece, with remarkable formal balance, clarity and symmetry. Incidentally, it was premiered in 1935 in Washington by the Kolisch Quartet; Rudolph Kolisch would later become the leader of the Pro Arte here in Madison.

The performance was truly great. The work is technically daunting in all four parts, exploiting nearly every sonority, dynamic and articulation available, and it's rhythmically so complex that ensemble as good as this was hardly seems possible. Yet each of the players in turn astounded me with the sheer beauty of their playing, above all in the two slow movements, adagio molto and andante, while their combined efforts in all five movements verged on miraculous.

The large audience, which had been wonderfully quiet and attentive throughout the concert, erupted in applause and cheers.

Madison Music Review, September, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson

Up Previous Index Next Down