Just because they’re composed of the same instruments doesn’t mean all string quartets sound the same. In fact, some sound radically different.
Consider the Daedalus Quartet, Tuesday’s guest of the Cleveland Chamber Music Society. Performing at Pilgrim Church in Shaker Heights, the players wielded a strikingly unique voice at the service of four works nearly as rare as their sound itself.
Possessed of a quiet not of this realm, the musicians – violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson, and cellist Thomas Kraines -- brought to their program incredible refinement and emotionality. Every note, it seemed, came packed with feeling, functioning in some small way as an element in a larger musical drama.
Their program, meanwhile, couldn’t have been more engaging. Stocked with early works by major and minor masters, the evening was as interesting on paper as it was in real life. Even their encore, a movement from Haydn’s obscure Op. 1 No. 3, was intriguing.
Britten’s String Quartet No. 1 was the standout, and not only because 2013 marks the composer’s centennial. In this work, completed in the U.S., Daedalus revealed the full, scintillating extent of its upper range, modeling ideals of purity and softness. Also part of the experience: unsettled calm, chased by bouts of angst and tenderness.
One can’t quite call Schulhoff’s Five Pieces for String Quartet delightful. The miniatures playing off the national dances of five European countries are simply too dark, too maniacal for such a quaint label. And yet it’s hard to think of another word, so vital and zesty were the performances Tuesday.
Likewise, Perle’s “Molto Adagio” of 1938. Bleak and dirge-like in character, the music doesn’t enchant in any conventional manner. Still, enchant it most certainly did, between its spacious, meandering harmonies and the mesmerizing power of the Daedalus four, who recently recorded Perle’s second, fifth and eighth quartets.
Prefacing all of this and offering the first glimpse of the ensemble’s distinctive sound was Mendelssohn’s youthful String Quartet Op. 12, written at the ripe old age of 20.
An early antidote to the dark, meditative works to come, the score allowed Daedalus to introduce itself with music of elfin lightness and poignant sentiment. Where the composer asked for delicacy, the artists shifted onto their musical tiptoes, and where emotion was in order, they struck a sublime balance between demure and saccharine.
In short, they lived up to their namesake, the mythological master craftsman. Like his creations for the gods, their performances for Northeast Ohio were simply stunning.