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Ysaÿe Quartet

From Fauré, a quartet worthy of limelight

March 8, 2011

The Ysaÿe Quartet of France brought some of the plushest string-quartet playing we’ve heard in years to a program of first-class works by Mozart, Fauré and Brahms, March 6 in Temple Beth-El for the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.

Most welcome was Gabriel Fauré’s Quartet in E Minor, an autumnal, harmonically radiant work from the composer’s final year. The piece has been overshadowed by the better-known quartets of Debussy, Ravel and Franck -- inexplicably overshadowed, for Fauré's is beautiful and finely made, the sort of music one could happily sink into. The Ysaÿe’s luxurious, silken, super-warm ensemble sound was ideally suited to this music, as was the troupe’s interpretive refinement. Not least of the assets was the beefy, opulent sound projected by violist Miguel da Silva, who often was the linchpin of this piece. His excellent colleagues were violinists Guillaume Sutre and Luc-Marie Aguera and cellist Yovan Markovitch.

W. A. Mozart was represented by the first of his six quartets dedicated to his mentor and friend, Franz Joseph Haydn. It was a lively and pointed conversation. Mr. Markovich was particularly assertive -- not of his own views, but of Mozart’s. One detail worth mentioning: At the start of the slow movement, andante cantabile, the cello’s role is to lay down a groove of eighth-note C’s for three measures; the first note of each bar is a low C marked forte, and the rest are an octave higher, marked piano. It was almost alarming to hear Mr. Markovich give full expression to the dynamic contrast that the composer clearly demanded, yet is seldom heard in performance.

The concert ended with a muscular, intense account of Johannes Brahms’s Quartet in C Minor, with Mr. da Silva again making the middle voice not just middle, but central. 
Mike Greenberg