Alluring Sweetness and Warmth from the Johannes Quartet

United StatesUnited States Mozart, Bartók, Brahms: Johannes Quartet (Soovin Kim & Julianne Lee [violins], Choong-Jin Chang [viola], Peter Stumpf [cello]), Kim Kashkashian (viola), Marcy Rosen (cello) Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 8.1.2017. (BJ)

Mozart – String Quartet in B flat major, K.589

Bartók – String Quartet No.3

Brahms – String Sextet No.1 in B flat major, Op.18

From the very first note of the Mozart B-flat-major Quartet, the sound of the Johannes Quartet in this Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert was suffused with the surpassing sweetness of Soovin Kim’s tone. All three works on the program benefitted from the resultant ensemble warmth, not excluding the one by Bartók.

I have often felt that too much stress has been laid by commentators on the astringent aspect of the Bartók quartets, and certainly on this occasion No. 3 emerged under these players’ hands as a by no means forbidding work, the instrumental colors at once vividly and seductively realized by all of them. The Mozart that preceded it sounded equally alluring, and it was paced to perfection, though the omission of the second repeat had the effect of making the opening Allegro sound a little insubstantial in proportion to the other movements.

For Brahms’s wonderfully sumptuous First Sextet – one of my favorite works – additional warmth was assured by the addition of Kim Kashkashian and Marcy Rosen to the group as second viola and second cello. Again, there was nothing to cavil at in the overall pacing. Perhaps the blend of the six instruments into one homogeneous sonority prevented the first movement’s subordinate theme from emerging as ravishingly from the texture as it should. But the total effect of the performance was enthralling, and the slow movement’s major-key variation was as heart-stoppingly gorgeous as ever.

Bernard Jacobson

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