In Los Angeles, chamber music from the Philharmonic

United StatesUnited States Haydn, Lowell Liebermann, Beethoven: Members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: Catherine Ransom Foley (flute), Nathan Cole, Michelle Tseng, Akiko Tarumoto, Stacy Wetzel (violins), Minor L. Wetzel, Ben Ullery (violas), Ben Hong, Jonathan Karoly, Dahae Kim (cellos), Stephen Vanhauwaert (piano). Disney Hall, Los Angeles, 3.10.2019. (LV)

Haydn – String Quartet in E-flat Op.33 No.2, The Joke
Lowell Liebermann – Trio No.1 for flute, cello and piano Op.83 (2002)
Beethoven – String Quartet No.15 in A minor Op.132

Listening to two different string quartets—two different ensembles—during the same concert can be an illuminating experience. . Musicians have their own personality and style, which becomes more evident as they impose their own insights and analysis, and breathe soul into a score. Even novices can hear the differences, both in outward personas and in how seriously they take their work. It’s tremendously challenging for the quartets themselves, especially those assembled for special occasions, to be under such close scrutiny.

Such was the case for the opening concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic‘s chamber music series at Disney Hall. In repertoire by Haydn and Beethoven, each of the hand-picked Philharmonic teams took different approaches and were admirably prepared. (A few technical breakdowns could have happened to any well-established quartet on a bad night.)

The quartet of Nathan Cole, Akiko Tarumoto, Ben Ullery and Dahae Kim in Beethoven’s Op.132 had an interesting sound — rough-hewn and big-boned — and the foursome seemed determined to stress line above personality, as well as any particular emotional involvement, leaving that to the composer. Their mostly immaculate but cautious outlook can sometimes come from musicians who are not used to being in the spotlight, and instead spend most of their professional lives in the anonymous safety of the full orchestra. In any case, in the wake of the hilarity produced by the cellist successfully negotiating the last of her death-defying solos, the audience went wild.

In Haydn’s Joke Quartet, Stacy Wetzel, Michelle Tseng, Minor L. Wetzel and Ben Hong injected more personality, after a welcoming introduction from the stage by Wetzel, who prepped the regrettably small crowd with an endearing bit of ‘Chamber Music 101.’ And to a large extent, she and her comrades were eminently successful. They gave the audience additional reasons to fall in love with Haydn as a jovial, fun guy — one not only joking around in the finale (and the audience ate it up) — but also in the Trio’s iconic melody, which Wetzel began with a particularly slimy slide.

On a program called Beethoven’s Late Genius, Lowell Lieberman’s innocuous Trio No.1 — a 2002 commission from James Galway — made a pleasant, if incongruous filling between the two geniuses, one paving the way for the other. There were angular Gallic sounds for the flute, exotic melismas for the flute, long-limbed legato beauties in the slow movement for the flute and cello, and a non-stop madcap finale — of course, led by the flute — which resulted in everyone’s great delight.

Laurence Vittes