Reviews

​​Last night at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre, Music Toronto, in its opening concert of the new season, presented the 2016 version of America’s ‘quintessential quartet’. The Juilliard String Quartet is in its seventy-first year and has turned over its membership many times in that span. On the minds of many in the hall was the question of how its newest member, cellist Astrid Schween would fit in. She is replacing cellist Joel Krosnick, who retired this past June after forty-two years with the group. The programme of Beethoven and Bartok would be an excellent test.

The programme opened with Beethoven’s Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, “Quartetto serioso”. This is a work of great intensity and agonizing expression. One can hear the explosions of anger from Beethoven’s personal pain or perhaps the anguish resulting from an occupied Austria. It is said that Beethoven never intended the work for an audience of more than a few “connoisseurs”.  Indeed, Schween did step up to the incredible challenges therein; each member played with passion and confidence; the group blended with the unity of an ensemble that had lived in every note for a lifetime. Joseph Lin (1st violin), Ronald Copes (2nd violin) and Roger Tapping, (viola) were each luminous in expressing the throbbing anger and angst intrinsic to this quartet. Schween was no less so. Their sound was at times as one instrument. Unisons were brilliantly clear and solos confidently passionate.

Bartok’s Quartet No.1, Op,7 (BB52), written a hundred years after the Beethoven, was no less demanding and no less a painful, personal expression of grief. It was clear from the outset that each of the performers found the soul of this music in their contrapuntal lines full of chromatic dissonances. The sense of a funeral procession was evident throughout the first movement. Like the opening Beethoven work, Bartok eventually finds relief from the misery, in Bartok’s case in Hungarian folk music. Following the despair, the joyful conclusion was ever more uplifting. The performance was truly inspired.

The second half of the program returned to Beethoven, this time Quartet in F, Op.59, No.1 (Razumovsky). The gently flowing opening theme in the cello and subsequently repeated in the other voices was a total departure from what we had heard in the first two works. As in the ‘Eroica’ symphony, the cello moves front and centre and its lyrical quality becomes a feature of the work, so appropriate for the new cellist of the Juilliard. It was as if to say she now belongs. Nevertheless, this is no early work reminiscent of Haydn. It has Beethoven written all over it in its complexity, symphonic scope and the virtuosity required of each performer and the ensemble as a whole.

Fifty years after my first encounter with the Juilliard String Quartet, it was as if it had matured and developed over time as I hope I have. With the latest change in membership, it is as if a glass-ceiling real or perceived has been broken. What we discovered on the other side of the ceiling is a vista of glowing stars. In a week in which the US presidential debate concerns the debasement of women, it is more than ironic, that here is a quartet reaping the rewards of equal voice.

– David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews, October 14, 2016

 

These four artists – violinists Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes, violist Roger Tapping and newly arrived cellist Astrid Schween – are meant to be paragons of fine artistry, given who and what they represent. They exceeded even such high expectations in a program of works by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Bela Bartok (1881-1945).

The Juilliard opened with the less-often performed Quartetto Serioso (F minor, Op. 95), by Beethoven, completed in 1811. It’s a treacherous work, its four movements constantly veering between angst and sweet hope. Every detail, from technical virtuosity to balance, is set nakedly in front of the listener. And each of these hurdles, big and small, were navigated with grace by these four fine players. The music pulsed and sang. This was a deeply burnished performance that captured the full emotional spectrum while also displaying ensemble playing that would be hard to surpass. It was hard to believe that Schween has only been part of the quartet for a month.

There was an overarching lyricism to the Juilliards’ interpretation that carried over into the rest of the evening. It made for particularly compelling listening in the Bartok quartet, his first, completed in 1909. This is music that can sometimes sound harsh, but not at the hands of these masters. You might think that rounding the edges a bit would take away from Bartok’s rhythmic and dissonant aesthetic, but it didn’t. The secret here was tension, a long, invisible cord that held the musical ideas together with irresistible force.

The closing first Razumovsky Quartet by Beethoven (F Major, Op. 59, No. 1, from 1806) was a thing of beauty, sculpted from a single piece of flawless musical soapstone. Here, the Juilliards’ lyricism made this into the rich icing on a dense cake. The first two works were similar studies in constant contrast, as seen through the vastly different aesthetics of their times. The Razumovsky Quartet introduced a ray of sunshine, allowing us to leave the theatre with a spring in our steps.

And so back to classical music being alive and well. There is nothing more serious and stark than four soberly-dressed performers sitting on a bare stage in a little circle of light. With no visual distractions, and, in Thursday night’s case, with a silent, rapt audience, there was nothing but pure music and unmediated listening. Freed from distraction, we beheld the music in and of itself, magnifying its emotional impact as well as the skill of the people making it happen in front of our very eyes.

– John Terauds, Musical Toronto, October 14, 2016

 

Bittersweetness tinged the Juilliard String Quartet’s first Lincoln Center performance this season, an exhilarating, penetrating, often splendidly harrowing concert on Monday at Alice Tully Hall. Joel Krosnick, the quartet’s cellist since 1974 and its longest-serving member by far, announced in May that he would leave the group at the end of this season. With no musician remaining on the roster who played with any of the Juilliard’s founding artists, a new era for a hallowed institution awaits.

The cello, first grand, then ruminative, plays alone at the start of Elliott Carter’s Quartet No. 1, written during a period in the Arizona desert in 1950-51. Mr. Krosnick rendered this solo with craggy glory, later plucking with gruff majesty as the violist Roger Tapping unspooled a velvety, elegiac line.

The group was endlessly agile in the twists of Carter’s quartet, defined by its myriad, complex shifts of tempo. Lively dances suddenly opened into rhapsodic yearning; a moody dialogue between cello and viola was interrupted by hovering, glassy high tones in the violins (Joseph Lin and Ronald Copes). Sudden floods of spidery runs and bursts of quivering energy were like sparks popping from a fire in a desert night.

Now largely characterized by the sleekly intense sound of Mr. Lin, its first violinist since 2011, the ensemble can beef up, too, broadening into the Carter quartet’s passages of sunset richness. Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” in C minor (D. 703) was a passing introduction, but Debussy’s Quartet in G minor, played with seething drama after intermission, was an essential pairing, making the classic lineage of Carter’s masterpiece entirely clear.

The Juilliard quartet has an elegant way of passing musical torches. In 2013, Mr. Tapping played alongside the violist he was replacing, Samuel Rhodes, in quintets by Mr. Rhodes and Mozart. And on Feb. 22, the new cellist, Astrid Schween, will join the current members for Schubert’s String Quintet in C (D. 956) during Mr. Krosnick’s final appearance with the group at Tully Hall.

The New York Times, November 24, 2015  (photo: Hiroyuki Ito, for The New York Times)

 

 

Exquisite control was the hallmark of this performance as the players evoked Webern’s barely audible sighs and heart-rending cries (the work was written as an elegy to Webern’s mother). Lin was especially nuanced as he navigated the music’s high harmonics, while the more dramatic moments were given emotional depth in this fully realized sequence of miniatures.

The same alertness that the players brought to Webern made their reading of Haydn’s G-Major Quartet a marvelous excursion into Haydn’s world of forthright melody and sly musical wit. With sturdy, no-nonsense tempos and richness of tone, the quartet made this brief work sparkle.

The second half of the program was devoted to Schubert’s intense and tragic String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, which gets its nickname from Schubert’s song “Der Tod und das Maedchen,” used as the thematic basis of its second movement variations.

The quartet were in top form here as they sustained the tension of Schubert’s long musical lines and paragraphs, and the sumptuousness of their collective tone was amplified nicely by Plymouth’s warm acoustic environment. Beautiful playing from the four individuals was the highlight of the variations, and the hell-for-leather finale was played with a combination of tight control and dramatic vitality that seems to be the hallmark of this current incarnation of the Juilliard Quartet.

– Cleveland.com, December 3, 2014

 

Championing the Second Viennese School is another crucial part of the Juilliard legacy, and as good as the Schubert was, the performances of Webern and Berg in the first half were sensational. I have never heard Webern’s Five Movements (Op. 5) sound so complete — structurally, emotionally, musically. The Juilliard adroitly captured the bits of Viennese nostalgia hiding in Webern’s epigrammatic phrases, and virtually every moment — the slashing energy of the third movement, the desolation of the fourth — was charged with electricity.

Next to the Webern, Berg’s String Quartet (Op. 3) had a Brahmsian warmth and richness, and the distance between it and the Schubert seemed much less than the 85 or so years that separate them. The performance united X-ray clarity among the parts, technical precision, and sheer passion, an amalgam it is hard to imagine being bettered. And while the focus should always be on the entire ensemble, Lin’s playing was amazing for its fluidity and control.

The audience response was tremendous, and that was particularly heartening for the Berg, given that work’s customary absence from concert stages. As an encore the quartet played the slow movement of Haydn’s String Quartet in G (Op. 33, No. 5).

Some groups seem to wrestle with their past and legacy; the Juilliard seems completely revitalized. After 68 years, it may be just hitting its stride.

– The Boston Globe, October 20, 2014

     more reviews of Jordan Hall concert:

     The Hub

     Boston Classical Review

     The Boston Musical Intelligencer

 

 

Sometimes silences can be more telling than the notes actually played, and in the Juilliard Quartet’s hands, four selections from Bach’s Art of Fugue showed the group’s cohesiveness and intonation – both contributed to the impressively tuned resonances left hanging in the air.  Of the four, the second Contrapunctus caused some audience tittering when violist Roger Tapping began slightly swaying as if in a jazz club, encouraging his colleagues to follow suit and giving the movement a slightly rakish cast.

In a gripping reading of Berg’s Lyric Suite, the sul ponticello passages in the fourth movement were striking for their fluidity and colour, but the drama of the final Largo desolato made perhaps the strongest impression, as the mood shifts to pain and the players gradually drop out at the end, leaving Tapping to have the final word.

Joseph Lin has been the group’s first violinist since 2011.  His instincts and intonation would be welcome anytime, anywhere, but he and second violinist Ronald Copes seem to mesh particularly well together.  Lin’s impeccably tuned flourishes in Beethoven’s third ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet in C major were some of the night’s highlights.  In the Andante, cellist Joel Krosnick offered impish pizzicatos, copied immaculately by the other three and making the waltz even more delectable.  And though they raced off in the finale, there was no blurring, only delight, followed by a commensurate roar from the packed hall.

The Strad, June 2014

 

This was music making in its pure, concentrated form. From beginning to end, the intensity of the music never wavered from a penetrating, bright heat.  A willing suspension of disbelief came about the audience as we witnessed such honesty of musicality. There was absolutely no attempt to force a single sound on any ear as a consistent and natural sense of rhetorical motion enticed the listener to enter the world created on stage.    (read more)

review of May 2014 Brahms Piano Quintet performance with Leon Fleisher in TheaterJones.com

 

With Jesse Jones’s String Quartet No. 3 (“Whereof man cannot speak…”), commissioned by the Juilliard School and presented here in its New York premiere, the group’s familiar authority took hold….  Partly prompted by his mother’s recent death, Mr. Jones works through lamentation, nostalgia, anger and acceptance in five continuous movements. Eloquent in its melancholy, Mr. Jones’s work made a striking impact in a poised, intense account.

In Schubert’s Quartet in G (D. 887), the Juilliard players affirmed the cohesion they showed in Mr. Jones’s piece. Paradoxically balancing thoroughgoing poise with an almost reckless edge, they expertly enacted visionary qualities intrinsic to late Schubert.  (read more)

– The New York Times, November 27, 2013

 

In a relay race some of the most dramatic moments occur during the handoff, when the anchor begins to accelerate as the incoming runner approaches, until the two run side by side, charging forward while trying to pass the baton as seamlessly as possible. Tuesday evening’s concert by the Juilliard String Quartet at Alice Tully Hall offered the chamber ensemble equivalent of the handoff zone with Samuel Rhodes, the quartet’s violist of 44 years, playing alongside Roger Tapping, who is to replace him in July….

The Juilliard players meticulously balanced their sharply drawn individual voices — including Mr. Rhodes’s velvet-tone viola and the gravelly cello of Mr. Krosnick — with a clear common purpose. The second movement seethed with rhythmic impatience played with rough, almost Bartokian force. It was followed by a beautifully expansive “Lento” flowing with the clear, sweet tone of Mr. Lin’s first violin.

Mr. Tapping joined in for Mr. Rhodes’s “String Quintet,” written in 1968 during his composition studies at Princeton. In it Mr. Rhodes employs 12-tone technique with great narrative flair and an eye for unusual textures…. A nostalgic line in the first viola showed off Mr. Tapping’s gorgeously mellow sound.   (read more)

– The New York TimesFebruary 28, 2013

 

Wednesday’s UW chamber-music concert in Meany Hall resoundingly demonstrated that the Juilliard String Quartet, founded way back in 1946, has lost nothing of its artistry, or of its unexcelled authority as an exponent of music both old and new.

There have, of course, been a few changes of personnel, and Samuel Rhodes, the quartet’s violist for the last 44 years, steps down at the end of this season. But, rather as a person preserves individuality through the constant replacement of cells, the group as a whole has kept its strongly recognizable musical character in place. It is a character marked by high-octane verve, yet never lacking in subtlety or warmth.  (read more)

– University of Washington concert review, Seattle Times, February 7, 2013

 

On this occasion, the Juilliard demonstrated how four instrumental voices engaged in Beethovenian conversation can keep an audience spellbound. The musicians approached these summits of Western civilization with scrupulous attention to the composer’s architectural and expressive innovations.

The Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, is among Beethoven’s boldest achievements: seven connected movements that run the gamut of compositional intrigue and eloquence. Lin applied elegant and urgent artistry to the score in tandem with his observant colleagues….

The ensemble’s performance of the Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132, was even better, imbued with remarkable cohesion and subtle gradations of articulation and phrasing. Once again, the central slow movement, alternating between serene and lilting inspiration, reflected the Juilliard’s command of changing moods. Lin’s impassioned outburst at the end of the fourth movement set the scene for a vibrantly brooding account of the finale.  (read more)

– Cleveland Chamber Music Society concert review, The Plain Dealer, December 5, 2012

 

The highlight of the evening was a brooding, nuanced interpretation of Janacek’s Quartet No. 1 (“Kreutzer Sonata”), inspired by Tolstoy’s novella of the same name and written while Janacek was infatuated with a married woman. Mr. Lin and his colleagues — Ronald Copes, second violinist; Samuel Rhodes, violist; and Joel Krosnick, cellist — aptly conveyed the yearning, urgency and bittersweet joviality of this richly scored work. (read more)

– Alice Tully Hall concert review, The New York Times, February 23, 2012

 

“Hough‘s all-American programme was conceived in honour of his guests for the evening, the New York-based Juilliard Quartet, who performed Elliot Carter‘s fifth String Quartet with precisely the mixture of seamless precision and depth of tonal character this music requires.“

Wigmore Hall concert review, The Guardian, January 25, 2012

 

The quartet introduced its new first violinist, Joseph Lin, to its New York audience on Monday evening in a free Juilliard School faculty concert at Alice Tully Hall. The program was hefty. It opened with Haydn’s Quartet in G (Op. 54, No. 1), which sounds easygoing but demands much, and also featured Donald Martino‘s rugged Quartet No. 5 (2004) and Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat (Op. 130), with the “Grosse Fuge” as its finale. (read more)

– Alice Tully Hall concert review, The New York Times, November 29, 2011

 

“For those who were watching the “new, young kid“ and trying to discern his musicianship and how he fit in, it was apparent that Joseph Lin is a violinist of unerring technique, exquisite tone and sensitive phrasing, who is also an effective leader of his vastly more experienced band mates…It would be great music even played at that surface level, but when the Juilliard Quartet spoke they delved deeply into the ambivalence, pain and struggle that is life itself.“

– Raleigh, NC concert review, CNVC Online Arts Journal, March 20, 2011