Szymanowski String Quartet

Presented by SBMA. At First Methodist Church, Tuesday,
March 7.

In a rare case of chamber music harmonic convergence, two
stellar young string quartets passed through Santa Barbara last
week, and on consecutive nights. The Belcea Quartet — resident
quartet of London’s famed Wigmore Hall — descended on the Lobero on
Monday, and the Szymanowski Quartet made its local debut at the
First Methodist Church on Tuesday (presented as part of the
dazzling chamber music series hosted by the Santa Barbara Museum of
Art, whose auditorium is currently being renovated). The sum effect
of these concerts confirmed a suspicion that something is very
right with the string quartet world at the moment. No, they don’t
make string quartets like they used to — they make ’em better. Both
quartets are still fledglings — each about a decade old — and both
are impressively solid, in terms of ensemble mission and

Founded in Warsaw, the Szymanowski Quartet is named after noted
Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), whose second quartet
(out of two written) was the most interesting and unusual stop on
Tuesday’s program of composers’ final quartets, including those by
Haydn (Quartet No. 2 in F, Opus 77) and Dvořák (Quartet No. 14 in
A-flat). The quartet’s delivery of the easy-does-it modernism of
their namesake amounted to the evening’s highlight. The musicians
moved adeptly, with four-as-one cohesion, from muted mystery to
gnarled tonalities suggesting a parallel Bartók, and on to a
surprisingly neat ending.

Taken as a whole, last Tuesday’s program dutifully juggled
elements along the historical timeline of string quartet writing.
The quartet fared well with the moving, mature classicism of
quartet pioneer Haydn, who both influenced and outlasted Mozart and
ended his 80-plus quartet oeuvre just as Beethoven was finding
himself. The mature Dvořák as represented by his last quartet is,
of course, a crowd-pleaser, although to these ears, even his best
writing tends to slosh about like so much late Romantic ear

Chamber music fares generally well in this church, as we’ve seen
and heard in the Current Sounds series, which is hosted here, but
as it is much larger and more reverberant than the intimate SBMA
hall, the string quartet sound was less distinct and detailed than
in that venue’s acoustic. Even so, the worshipful ambience of this
space seems apt. Count the Szymanowski Quartet as one in a crowded
field of young quartets doing all the right things, and playing
with a bold artistry worth keeping tabs on.


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