NEW YORK TIMES:
Utrecht String Quartet at the Frick Collection
The society couldn't have fulfilled its mission better than engaging the Utrecht String Quartet for a performance Monday at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church. At the start of a United States tour, the first-rate ensemble from the Netherlands introduced itself with a program of rarely played works of bountiful allure and stimulation.
Few listeners on this continent are likely to recognize the name Johannes Verhulst, a 19th-century Dutch composer who studied briefly with Mendelssohn. Verhulst's String Quartet No. 1 has hints of Mendelssohnian panache, especially in the elfin-like pages of the scherzo, and the opening of the finale bears a striking resemblance to the rushing figure that sets off the finale to Beethoven's "Eroica."
But most of the quartet shows the Dutchman to be a skilled creator of poetic and invigorating music, and the Utrecht's lean, crystalline style enhanced the work's many charms. The finale's scampering passages held no terrors for this international mingling of violinists Eeva Koskinen (Finland) and Katherine Routley (Australia), violist Joel Waterman (the Netherlands) and cellist Sebastian Koloski (Germany).
Mendelssohn himself made an appearance in the form of the Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81. The title suggests the story of these gems, which the composer wrote at different times during his last years. They bear his unmistakable stamps of lyrical freshness, passion, airborne spirits and compositional ingenuity, especially a final fugue of dizzying activity.
Koskinen was a marvel of gleaming transparency and expressivity, and her colleagues matched her in nimbleness, vitality and sophistication.
The Utrecht musicians reserved their most compelling artistry for Sibelius' String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56, known as "Voces intimae." Those intimate voices can be heard throughout the five-movement score, which the great Finnish composer wrote between the Third and Fourth symphonies.
Sibelius' unmistakable stamp is evident in the transformation of short themes and distinctive juxtaposition of sprightly and dark material. The central slow movement is the work's heart, a mesmerizing and often anguished conversation with myriad subtle shifts in accent, meter and nuance.
What a wondrous world the Utrecht evoked in commune with Sibelius. The playing was ultra-flexible and articulate, and everywhere alert to atmosphere and feeling. As the finale came to its rousing close, the Rocky River audience was quick to acknowledge their visitors' exceptional artistry.