In the only one of three concerts scheduled for this weekend that actually took place, the Daedalus Quartet brought a varied and successful program to Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 3. First violinist Min-Young Kim enlivened Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet (Op. 33, No. 2) with her own tasty embellishments and even a small cadenza in the finale; otherwise the performance was stylish, convincing, and, when appropriate, downright funny. Schumann’s Quartet No. 1, calling for quite different performance qualities, fared equally well, the speed of fast movements not interfering with their expressive nature. Baritone Andrew Garland joined the ensemble for a real rarity, Othmar Schoeck’s “Notturno,” a large song cycle for baritone and string quartet in a very late romantic idiom. Garland sang beautifully and melded very well with the strings. The audience awarded Standing O’s to both halves of the program.
Every once in a while something occurs at a concert which startles and pleases me. That happened as the Daedalus Quartet performed Haydn’s Quartet in E Flat, Op. 33, No. 2, the “Joke,” perhaps the most appropriately nicknamed of any of Haydn’s works. In the first movement, I began to notice first violinist Min-Young Kim adding little embellishments and decorations to Haydn’s text. This continued throughout the piece, with sparing but noticeable deviations from the score, culminating in a delicious little cadenza Kim added in the final movement.
Endorsing the practice of embellishing scores from early baroque through early Beethoven has become a real crusade of mine in recent years. It’s gratifying to hear an increasing number of performers doing this, not only early music specialists but also generalists like Vladimir Feltsman and Paula Robison. But I’m sure I’ve never heard a string quartet fiddling with texts like this, and it was most pleasing.
There were plenty of other virtues in this performance. I found the first movement crisp, impeccably played, and charming. The group emphasized Haydn’s comedy in the Scherzo, with some smile-inducing portamento in the trio. The slow movement was quite affecting, and I greatly enjoyed Jessica Thompson’s rich, almost chewy viola sound. And then the finale, fast but clear, exciting, and that final joke as funny as I’ve ever heard it.
Schumann’s music may be a world away from Haydn’s, but the DSQ did equally well with his Quartet No. 1, in A Minor, Op. 41, No. 1. The approach was big, mellow, and highly expressive, and again I found a slow movement affecting. This performance earned a very rare Standing O at intermission from the audience.