When the members of the Modigliani String Quartet took their final bows yesterday afternoon at Sunset Center in Carmel, we knew that we had just heard quartet playing on the highest and most artistic level. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. Violinists Amaury Coeytaux and Loic Rio, violist P. Laurent Marfang and cellist François Kieffer are celebrating their 15th anniversary playing together, and their their close association has produced such a tight knit ensemble that the music they perform flows seamlessly and effortlessly. This is not to imply that their playing was glib. Quite to the contrary, their playing was full of passion and artistic commitment to the works they perform, and when all the elements came together, as they did yesterday afternoon, it produces performances seemingly inevitable in their purity and technical mastery.
Most of the first half of the concert was devoted to a mighty performance of Mozart’s String Quartet in C Major, K.465, This is a gargantuan work of approximately 45 minutes duration — that’s ten minutes longer than an average performance of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony. The quiet, dissonant beginning in the introduction to the first movement immediately drew us along on a musical journey that held us spellbound throughout its four movements. The musical repartee between the instruments was spot on, and ultimately we became less and less aware of four individual musicians and completely captivated by the homogeneous blend of the work as a whole.
Next we heard Mendelssohn’s Capriccio for String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 81, No. 3, a work I had never heard before, and once again we were taken on a magic journey. The opening Adagio exhibited a considerable degree of forward motion, more like an Andante, and the players endowed it with soulful intensity. What a fascinating fugue it was that concluded the movement. The fugue as a genre was already considered a relic from the Ancien Régime when Mendelssohn composed this work in 1843, but he made it his own and filled it with his own brand of Sturm und Drang. This was a very poetic and powerful performance.
After intermission the Modigliani players treated us to a great performance of the Brahms String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2. Brahms often takes us into dark and brooding areas of his personality, and so he does in this great introspective work. The players developed many moments of both lyric expression and dramatic intensity. It was an amazing performance.
Responding to the audience’s boisterous acclaim, the players performed a brief encore by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Let us hope that the Modigliani String Quartet pays us a return visit soon.