It fell to England's Chilingirian String Quartet to kick off the Chamber Music Society of Logan's 10th-anniversary lineup Tuesday at Utah State University, a season that includes concerts by the Kronos Quartet and the Borodin Trio.
The result was a full house in the Eccles Conference Center auditorium, and a mostly youngish one to boot. But anyone who came expecting staid British traditionalism must have had a surprise, as these four performers dug unflinchingly into everything on their program.That worked best in the Quartet in F major of Prokofiev, the second of his two essays in that form. Composed more or less on the run from the Germans during World War II, it incorporates music from the northern Caucasian area to which he, along with other Soviet artists, had been evacuated.
Here its rustic flavor was to the fore in a reading of immense presence and style. Although I would not have called the playing elegant, it was never coarse - especially Philip De Groote's cello - bringing out not only the Bartokian bite of the outer movements but the graceful melancholy of the Adagio, in which the folk melodies were nevertheless brightly accented.
That same presence and hint of wire were apparent in their Haydn, here the Quartet in D major, Op. 71, No. 2, another rustic-flavored work. At least that is the way I hear it and obviously the Chilingirians agree, as from the first the music really came alive in their hands, fairly bursting with wit, exuberance and, where appropriate, charm.
Thus the opening movement had just the right amount of graininess, as did lead violinist Levon Chilingirian's playing in the langourous Andante. After which, at a quick tempo, the minuet danced merrily, its verve carrying over into the finale. In short, not the most refined conception imaginable, but I liked its vigor, especially in a piece that, like so much of Haydn's music, was clearly written to please an audience.
Brahms' music, on the other hand, tends to be much more inward, but I'm not sure you'd have known that from the post-intermission performance of the first of his Op. 51 quartets, in C minor.
Certainly the drama was not misplaced, particularly in the first movement, whose strength was impressive (e.g., the electrifying coda). Often the intensity was achieved, however, at the cost of any real warmth or repose, so that even the Romanze had a wiry overlay.
Likewise the Allegretto, which needed to flow a bit more but at least was properly subdued in volume. The Finale, by contrast, grabbed the listener by the collar and never let go - an exciting view, but one whose impatience I found overdone.
Tickets to the remaining five concerts are available at the USU ticket office. For information call 752-2667. But from the looks of things Tuesday, you may need to get your bid in early.