Daedalus Quartet
Daedalus performance takes flight


Review: Daedalus Quartet performance takes flight

The program at the WCR Center for the Arts was filled with fascinating and sublime sounds.


The Daedalus Quartet returned to the Friends of Chamber Music of Reading series Friday night with three pieces that were wildly varied in style but surreptitiously linked. The result was a program that filled the WCR Center for the Arts with sounds both fascinating and sublime.

When Sergei Prokofiev was commissioned, during his American tour in 1930, to write a string quartet, he agreed with a bit of trepidation, since it was his first composition in that form. So he learned from the best: He studied Beethoven's late String Quartets, one of which, Op. 127, appeared on Friday's program along with Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 1 in B minor, Op. 50.

While the two quartets sound, as you would expect, unlike each other, they each stretched the envelope of the form in ingenious ways; and each, particularly as performed by the Daedalus, brings the best out of the instruments.

Violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Thomas Kraines gave an eloquent performance of the three-movement Prokofiev quartet, particularly the final movement which - against tradition - was slow.

Their pristine tone quality - neither shrill nor too sweet - evoked the delicacy and sharpness of icicles; the voices grew in plaintiveness and then turned disturbing before melting down to bare essentials at the end.

Their first movement, fast and furious and then darker, and eventually sardonic, was unmistakably Prokofiev - cleanly neoclassical, half prickly and half lovelorn.

The wintry opening of the second movement dissipated into sparks, with brief forays into grinding machinery - their playing was as vivid as the writing.

In mid-concert, they performed "Chaconne," a one-movement quartet they commissioned in 2016 from Fred Lerdahl; it is his fourth, and is actually a theme and 50 variations. Beginning with spare writing, using high filaments of tones that disperse into birdy trills and twittering, the eight-bar variations become ever more complex, making near-impossible demands on the players.

Hearing the piece for the first time was like watching an intricate game for which you don't know the rules, but from which you can't tear yourself away. It was an absorbing take on the same form Beethoven used in his Adagio movement of Opus 127, providing the other link in the program.

The Daedalus Quartet's performance of the Beethoven quartet was magnificent, from the caressing treatment of the first movement to the final note.

But the Adagio, which began with the theme in a drifting tempo, like a sleepwalker, was notable for its intense variations - first lyrical, then jovial and rhythmic, then a shimmering prayer, then a waltz, then somber and quiet, and finally pulsating to a lovely close - played with nuanced drama.

They used the lightest touch for the chortling, chuckling Scherzo with its whirlwind trio, and the Finale, with its drones and fiddling, was as startling and fresh as when it was premiered.

Contact Susan L. Pena: life@readingeagle.com.


Susan L. Pena, The Reading Eagle
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