September 9, 2006
Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie
One Living, Breathing OrganismThe Keller Quartett at the musicfest
Aus der Ferne III for string quartet
Hommage à Jacob Obrecht
Aus der Ferne V for string quartet
String quartet Nr. 2 op. 17
Six moments musicaux op.44
Ludwig van Beethoven
String quartet a-moll op. 132
One living, breathing organismThe Keller Quartett at the musicfest
by Nancy Chapple / Photo: Andrea Felvégi
The Keller Quartett came together while studying in Budapest in 1987, and it is immediately apparent from their playing that they have been rehearsing, performing, and even breathing together this whole time.
The first half of their program at the musikfest berlin 06 framed Bartók's Second String Quartet (1917-1919) with several quartets by György Kurtág, the first being Aus der Ferne III. The quartet has built up a special relationship with Kurtág: they studied with him at the Budapest Conservatory and, over the past 20 years, he has composed several of his string quartets expressly for them. Their relationship with the Kurtág works felt internalized. They presented the audience with an atmospheric intensity that went right into the gut. In the most easily accessible of Kurtág's Moments Musicaux, the cello served as a rhythmic and harmonic framing pillar, providing a comforting bar-by-bar structure.
The first movement of Bartók's Second String Quartet, Moderato, is about moving towards high points in phrases. Given the soft and overall tentative sounds of the Kurtág works, there was quite a change in intensity and presence when all four members of the quartet played at once. In Bartók's passages for one melodic line with the other three instruments supporting with the harmonic accompaniment, it felt that we were returning to earlier ideas of quartet composition. We tangibly felt the quartet's mastery of elasticity in tempo and organic ritardandi in the Allegro appassionato. They seemed to relish Bartók's arched phrases, with clear build-up and clean conclusions. The quartet played together perfectly, creating rich and wonderful sounds.
The first movement of Beethoven's Quartet Op. 132 piles ideas on top of each other with a richness of thought, an almost frenzied desire to get it all done. Also typical for late Beethoven is creating new sounds by making use of the string instruments' extreme ranges. The Keller Quartet was always present and focused in rhythm, phrasing and modulations, though first violin and cello were sometimes slightly out of tune as phrases and impressions rushed by. The elaborate title of the third movement - translated into English as Holy Song of Thanksgiving by a Convalescent to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode - creates high expectations of the sublime, and they did in fact play it sublimely: long tenuto notes formed chords that shifted only slowly, creating an atmosphere of heavenly praise. In the fourth movement, the cello and the first violin framed the sound; the phrase led us first in one direction, then another.
The Keller Quartet could be described as one living, breathing organism with many hands. There was no showiness in their performance: they were simply serving the music.