FRY STREET QUARTET, Performance Hall, Utah State University, Thursday through Saturday
The Fry Street Quartet once again showed its artistry as it finished Saturday what it began a week earlier a marvelous perusal of Beethoven's complete string quartets over six concerts, an event made even more memorable by the fact that this was the first time the cycle was performed in Utah.
A decade after its founding, the group (violinists William Fedkenheuer and Rebecca McFaul; violist Russell Fallstad; and cellist Anne Francis) decided it was time to tackle what arguably is the greatest challenge facing a quartet performing the complete Beethoven cycle, 16 quartets that span his entire creative life.
These works put players to the test in terms of interpretation, technique and musicianship. And the Fry Sreet Quartet, which is the quartet-in-residence at Utah State University where these concerts took place, made it look easy. They exhibited the highest standards of their craft both weekends. Solid technique, wonderful musicality and fabulous artistry combined to make the six concerts they played special. The Fry Street Quartet is without question to be reckoned with among today's quartets. It has arrived.
The last three concerts in the cycle consisted of op. 18, nos. 5-6; op. 59, nos. 1-2; op. 74 (Harp); op. 130; and op. 135.
The two early op. 18 quartets were played with classically proportioned lines and phrases. But the foursome also drew out the distinctly Beethovian stylistic characteristics that were beginning to manifest themselves in these pieces. Consequently, these readings were infused with a depth of emotion and romantic sentiment that gave them new meaning.
The three middle period works (op. 59 and 74) were played with intensified expressions and a robustness that captured the boldness of the music wonderfully. Yet they also brought out the inherent lyricism of these quartets as well. It was a fine balancing act, but their artistry and interpretative skills are such that the Fry Street Quartet gave superbly crafted three-dimensional readings that were nuanced and sensitive to all the minute details in the scores.
This also held true for the op. 135. Beethoven's last completed quartet, the op. 135 returns to his roots in classicism, but with the expanded vocabulary and thematic material that typify his late works. The op. 135 certainly can't be mistaken for an early quartet, but neither does it conform to the ones immediately preceding it.
The foursome captured this musical dichotomy wonderfully. It was a very expansive reading and very nuanced in terms of dynamics and expression. It was delightfully lucid seamless, eloquent and, in the slow movement, beguilingly tender and poignant.
However, the gem at this past weekend's concerts was the op. 130, which the group played on both Friday and Saturday nights first with the second finale Beethoven wrote to replace the "Grosse Fuge" ("Great Fugue") ending, and then with the original fugue movement.
The work takes on different characteristics depending on which final movement is played. The second finale, almost Mozartean in character and wit, brings the work to a lighthearted close. And the Fry Street Quartet gave it a spirited reading that was captivating and appealingly lyrical.
The "Grosse Fuge," on the other hand, puts the weight of the work as a whole on the finale, much like the thrust in Mahler's symphonies because of its size and scope everything is directed to and focused on the last movement.The fugue also adds gravitas to the work. There is an earnestness and vastness to this piece that transforms the op. 130 and transports it to another world. The Fry Street musicians played it marvelously. Theirs was a penetrating account forceful, full of self assurance, bold and compelling. The fugue quite literally consumes the listener with its audacity, and the foursome's enthralling performance captured the piece's relentless drive and energy fabulously.