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Pro Arte: Mozart, Shostakovich, Beethoven

Mozart: Quartet in A Major, K. 464
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 7 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 108
Beethoven: Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74

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


When one reaches the level of the UW's Pro Arte Quartet, comparisons fall by the wayside and one is left with the deep satisfaction that perhaps only musical miracles can produce.

Last Saturday at Mills Hall, the program itself was artful: Mozart's Quartet in A Major, K. 464, followed by a work in the relative minor of A major, Shostakovich's Quartet No. 7 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 108, in turn succeeded by Beethoven's Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74. The key relationships amount to a series of descending minor thirds, spanning a very large harmonic space. Not resting on such technicalities, the Pro Arte revealed the classical yet revolutionary natures of all three works.

The Pro Arte's sound is clear and assertive where it needs to be, avoiding "prettiness," even in the Mozart, where one often meets such a quality. All three works afford amazing vitality for the two middle voices, bringing the second violin and the viola into prominence to an uncommon degree. Technical challenges abound everywhere in this program, requiring utmost speed, tremendous agility in bowing, careful articulation, subtle phrasing and incredible dynamic control. Musical virtues were so abundant as to make a shambles of my usual scheme of note-taking during concerts, forcing me to resort to a mark that means "as good as it gets" next to each of each work's four movements.

It's certainly no slight to Mozart or Shostakovich that Beethoven somehow sums up the full range of what a string quartet can be: a whole that is greater than its parts. He also looks past the constraints of classical style in the very act of observing them. For instance, in the slow movement, the silences are as full of music as the sound is. Thematic elements appear that have a grandeur and poignancy more in line with Verdi operas than with Beethoven's contemporaries of the Classical period, all this within the Classical terms of sonata, song form and theme with variations.

I don't recall ever hearing a more unified, revealing quartet recital than this one. All I could do afterwards was go backstage and offer a heartfelt "Thank you!" to each of the players in turn.

Isthmus, October, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson

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