Swan Song for the Vermeer Quartet
Friday, December 1, 2006 at 10:41AM
Stephen Brookes

December 1, 2006

vermeer_quartet.jpgThe Washington Post 12/1/06:  In Germany, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 2 in G is sometimes referred to as the Komplimentier-Quartett -- the "quartet of bows and curtsys." But in the hands of the Vermeer Quartet, whose members appeared at the Terrace Theater on Wednesday as part of their final tour as an ensemble, there was nothing fussy or even particularly polite about the work. The Vermeer players take a robust, full-bodied approach to their music, and this was deeply satisfying Beethoven, with presence and character to spare.

But the Beethoven was merely a warm-up to the evening's centerpiece, a genuinely stunning performance of Benjamin Britten's String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94. Written largely in Venice the year before he died, the quartet was Britten's last major work, and it's very much a swan song.

Bejamin Britten
Intensely personal and full of intimate anguish, the quartet seems composed of questions and confessions, the preoccupations of a man near the end of his life. The Vermeer captured every nuance of this extraordinary work -- from the poignant delicacy of the Solo movement to the demonic waltz of the Burlesque -- with subtlety, understanding and quiet power.

Perhaps the impact of the Britten made it hard to shift gears afterward; at any rate, the Vermeer closed with a reading of Schumann's String Quartet No. 3 in A, Op. 41, that never really left the ground. It was expertly played, but even its most tender moments felt sinewy -- a performance that could have used less muscle and more feathers.


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