REVIEW: Veronikas bring string quartet brillance to the FAC
Next: "Around the world with the string quartet: Australia" - music by Sculthorpe, Haydn and DvoÅ™ák
Who: Veronika Afanassieva and Karine Garibova violins, Ekaterina Dobrotvorskaia viola, Scott Kluksdahl cello
When: 2 p.m. February 24
Where: The Music Room of the Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale Street
Tickets: $15, $10 students; 634-5583, csfineartscenter.org.
Something Else: Each concert is performed at Pueblo's Ascension Episcopal Church at 7:30 on the night before, 719-295-7200
Two violins, a viola and a cello.
Seems a slight representation of what we hold as the marquee performing ensemble in classical music: the symphony orchestra. Over time, this quartet of strings proved itself to be far more than a convenient distillation. Composers saw the form as an ultimate challenge to their artistry and musicians discovered that only their finest effort would suffice. It’s the template that has turned the “string quartet” into the art form’s signature expression.
This is what fuels groups like the Veronika String Quartet. In the Fine Arts Center season debut, they left no doubt about the excellence of their musicianship and greatness of their medium.
This was also the official debut of the newest addition to the quartet, cellist Scott Kluksdahl. The Veronikas, who emigrated from Russia, have called Pueblo home for almost a dozen years. Only two of their original members remain: first violinist Veronika Afanassieva and second violinist Karine Garibova. Violist Ekaterina Dobrotvorskaia also is from Russia. The quartet has had an Americans on their roster before but never a man. Kluksdahl proved himself an ideal addition.
The opening concert of their “Around the World with the String Quartet” themed season appropriately began with a musical tribute to Austria, the acknowledged birthplace of the form. Mozart’s K. 387 from 1782 kicked-off the concert and from the start, the essential qualities needed to realize string quartet performance were present: accurate intonation and artistic intimacy.
The only flaw of the performance showed up in the opening movement, in which the ends of phrases frequently lacked finesse and uniformity. Clearly present was the most essential quality of this ground breaking effort from Mozart: equality of all four instrumental voices.
In the second movement, Menuetto, the Veronikas coalesced into a single musical organism. In fact, for the rest of the concert, they would never slip back to what undermined the opening.
The exciting details revealed in the Menuetto were superseded by the poetry and grace of the Andante. The tantalizing textures of the finale brought one of Mozart’s greatest compositions to a close.
As fine as the ensemble was, special note must be made of the musical alchemy that founding members Afanassieva and Garibova have developed over almost quarter of a century of musical partnership. The two violins in a string quartet are often asked to share the lead voice. If there is any sonic disagreement between them, it takes a great deal away from the whole. In my experience, I have never heard a first and second so in sync and seamless.
Anton Webern’s “Rondo” from 1906 was next up. Only a few years removed from the introduction of the composer’s world-changing minimalist expressionism, this short work nonetheless challenges performer and listeners alike with its weird effects and abstraction. No problem for the Veronikas here. I only wished they had taken on one of Webern’s later works, which produce a shocking and unforgettable experience.
But the proving ground for any string quartet has and always will be Beethoven. Leaving nothing to chance, the Veronikas chose a break-out work by music history’s most potent revolutionary, the first of the “Middle Quartets,” the Op. 59, No.1, published in 1808.
To hear work such as this properly interpreted is a transcendent experience. Being that chamber music was originally intended as a private experience for the musicians, one can only envy what the members of a string quartet themselves can gain from realizing such a powerful work of art.
And this was one of those kinds of performances. In this first of the three “Razumovsky” quartets, Beethoven surpasses the scope of his beloved Mozart in every way. The Veronikas took hold of the possibilities at hand and shared an insight into the human condition that is strictly the domain of great art and music.
As brilliant as the first two fast movements were, it was in the “Adagio molto e mesto” that this rarefied air was finally present. The Veronikas found the special universe that is unique to Beethoven. Only one further aesthetic challenge remained: the letting loose of light as the finale answers the anguish of the slow movement. On this Sunday afternoon, the breathtaking tension built up over three movements was joyfully and expertly released.