Concert Review: Tokyo String Quartet

April 22, 2011 concert by the Tokyo String Quartet

The TSQ is a chamber music group that was established many years ago by four Japanese musicians. Over the years, two new players have joined the group, so that now only the second violinist, Mr. Kikuei Ikeda, and the violist, Mr, Kazuhide Isomura remain as original members. The newer members are Martin Beaver, first violin, and Clive Greensmith, Cello. The Tokyo String Quartet is the quartet in residence at New York’s 92nd St. Y.

The concert was in Carmel, California. The program included:

• W. A. Mozart: Quartet #15 in D-Minor, K. 421

• Szymanowski: Quartet #1, in C-Major, Op. 37

• Beethoven: Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131

The playing of the amazingly beautiful Mozart D-minor immediately established this group as fine players. The music had a very nice balance and an outstanding style. This is one of the 6 quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn. And upon reviewing these works, Haydn said to Mozart’s father, that the world will talk a lot about his son in the coming years. And Haydn was certainly correct. This music was composed in 1783, and we are still talking about it! The second movement (Andante) was particularly enjoyable because of the nice execution of the dynamics. There were some fine pianissimos here! The 3rd movement Menuetto was very sprightly and stylish, and the concluding movement was very satisfying, as well. On occasion I found the Cello to be too loud, and I was sitting in the back of the concert hall…

I personally was unable to connect with the music of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. I experienced his music as a whole set of disconnected musical ideas that – for me – did not relate to each other. There much use of sliding on the strings, playing in high registers, use of harmonics and tremolos, but somehow it did not make sense to me.

The evening’s final piece was the Beethoven C-sharp minor quartet which was one of the last compositions that Beethoven created before his death in 1827. This is an acknowledged major masterpiece. In fact it represents one of the great pillars of all chamber music, and indeed was a revolutionary composition for its time. I found that the notes were all there, yet I was unable to fully enjoy the music. For one thing, the tempi were frequently rushed. Again, as in the Mozart, the Cello, with its amazingly lush sound, was somewhat too prominent in spots and this created a distraction.

I was glad that I attended. I have a great friend who is a pianist; she was born in Warsaw; I’ll have to ask her to coach me on Szymanowski’s music…

Here is a video of the Mozart String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, KV 421, II. Andante, as performed by the Neues Leipziger Streichquartett:

Tags: Tokyo String Quartet, Mozart, Szymanowski, Beethoven, Carmel California, April 2011

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