A gorgeous and unified sound was the hallmark of the Auryn Quartet appearance at the Trianon Theater, presented by the San Jose Chamber Music Society on October 22. Formed in 1981, the Quartet has had no change of personnel in its 35 years. They perform in major concert halls and music festivals around the world and produce award-winning recordings, including complete quartets of Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and others. They are familiar to San Jose audiences by their performances of Beethoven quartet cycles presented in 2014 and 2015 by the SJCMS. On this visit they played quartets by Debussy, Mozart and Grieg.
The lush chords of Debussy’s quartet opened the concert in sonic waves, the four instruments moving in parallel motion, resembling ocean waves swirling among the rocks. The Auryn brought a flexibility of line and rhythm that was consistently natural in expression. The work is an early example of impressionism in music, composed in 1893. Set in the classic four-movement structure in the key of g minor, it veers toward new horizons, reflecting the composer’s interest in timbre and sonority, and in new ways to organize sounds. The perky second movement pizzicato has the players mostly plucking the strings, probably influenced by Debussy’s recent encounter with the music of Indonesia performed in Paris in 1889. The clean resonance of the Auryn’s sound was rewarded by the excellent acoustics of the Trianon Theater. Rapid passages in unison came through with precision.
The thrilling ending of the Debussy quartet seemed to many in the audience to be a strange way to precede Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet (K.458). The traditional approach would be to place the earlier classical work first on the program. But by putting the Mozart before intermission and after the brilliant Debussy, Mozart became the centerpiece of the concert. The Auryn gave this happy work with hum-able tunes a bit more weight than usually heard. Their darker sounds gave it more reverence.
Composed fifteen years before Debussy’s, the Quartet No. 1 of Edvard Grieg shares some characteristics with it beyond both being in the key of g-minor. Grieg was more interested in sonority than in classical thematic transformation, as was Debussy. In contrast to the classical composers, both used cyclic techniques, when the same themes appear throughout the four movements. Rejected by one publisher for being too orchestral, the Grieg score sometimes requires the four players to sustain chords of 8-12 notes. These are moments to savor when sitting in the Trianon Theater. The second movement Romanze began with the romantic sounds of Andreas Arndt (cello) and Stewart Eaton (viola), only to erupt in a frenzy of rhythmic activity as they are joined by violinists Mattias Lingenfelder and Jens Oppermann. The final movement is a lively Saltarello rhythm.
The strong audience response obliged an encore, a modern tango that was very nice but blurred the memory of the lush final sounds of the Grieg Quartet. It appears that The Auryn will always be welcome to return to San Jose.