United States Berg and Schubert: Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Juilliard Quartet, Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 24.10.2014 (BJ)
Berg: String Quartet, Op. 3
Schubert: String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, “Der Tod und das Mädchen”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Juilliard Quartet is its capacity for seemingly limitless self-renewal. Founded in 1946, it was led for just over half a century by first violinist Robert Mann. No other members have lasted quite that long, but Samuel Rhodes was the quartet’s violist for 44 years, starting in 1969, and Joel Krosnick has been its cellist since 1974. Yet any fear that the group would lose its quality or its character after Mann’s retirement has been firmly set aside through the relatively few changes of membership that have followed.
The group that we heard at this concert featured two musicians who have joined it within the last three years, but it is still the fabled Juilliard Quartet of old, admired for its combination of powerful musical insights with brilliant technical polish. The English-born violist Roger Tapping succeeded Rhodes in 2013, and has already blended his eloquent tone and style seamlessly into the quartet’s overall texture. And in Joseph Lin, born in the United States in 1978 to immigrant parents from Taiwan, the Juilliard in 2011 found a musician of extraordinary gifts who arouses hopes of another epic tenure to rival that of its founding leader.
Quite aside from the dazzling quality of his playing, Lin is indeed a leader in his own right. It takes strength of character to come, in your mid-thirties, into a group of individuals so senior and experienced and to take what is clearly a true leadership role. From his opening mini-lecture about the music on the program, through a sumptuously toned performance of Berg’s early quartet, up to the end of Schubert’s “late” one (written when he was all of 29 years old!), Lin displayed an unfailing sense of style and an equally unfailing ability to integrate his line into the music as at once authoritative inspirer and sympathetic listener.
With contributions of matching quality from Tapping, second violinist Ronald Copes, and cellist Joel Krosnick, everything about the Juilliard’s traversal of the great “Death and the Maiden” Quartet was beautiful in sound, impeccable in rhythm and ensemble, and richly dramatic. There were moments, too, of breathtaking illumination, including one near the end of the slow movement demonstrating that a subito piano can be the most thrilling thing in music.