Talich Quartet makes the most of hierarchy

It's often said that a string quartet at its finest is a conversation among equals. Modern music is usually composed with this as an axiom, and more than ever you now see quartets with violinists sharing duties at first and second.
As the Talich Quartet argued Monday night at Carnegie Music Hall, there is still something to be said for having a clear-cut leader at first violin. Of course, it's made easier when the first violinist's father founded the group. Jan Talich Jr. follows his father, who named the group in 1964 after a conductor uncle. However, the leadership of the son was real, not titular, at this Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society concert. He molded the individually talented group into a single voice just as convincing as that acclaimed conversation.

Haydn's "Lark" Quartet, Op. 64, No. 5 benefited the most from the approach, as it stems from the time when the first violin had an intentionally larger role in quartet music. Talich's reading was an exquisitely embroidered tapestry, with themes and phrasing woven perfectly. Violinist Petr Macecek, violist Vladimir Bukac and cellist Petr Prause were remarkably responsive to the cues of Talich. Even when they played quietly, the sound felt loud due to their playing so tightly together. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing quartet members sitting so close to each other on stage, showing that Talich's concern for ensemble began before the group played a single note.

Bartok's Sixth Quartet followed by unleashing a dark and burnished sound from the instruments. Purposefully kept latent in the "Lark," this more mysterious timbre emerged - well-matched by each performer - bringing appropriate flavor to this lamenting work about the horrors of World War II. The build to the bleak and desolate finale was a potent journey, indeed.

Like a finely tuned sports car, the quartet shifted yet again for Debussy's Quartet in G minor, a work it has recently recorded on Calliope. Here again, one was amazed by the ensemble and the ability to make timbre match the work. The first theme of the first movement conjured up one word: "velvet." It was a tactile response to an auditory stimulus. Jan Talich Jr. is a commanding performer whose aim is true with short or long bow strokes. His swagger and confidence never hurt the cohesiveness of the group. After all, music is not the realm of true democracy.


Pittsburgh, Post-gazette.com


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