June 27, 2012

Princeton University Summer Concerts Opens Season With Daedalus String Quartet

Princeton University Summer Concerts kicked off its season in high gear last Tuesday night with a full house performance of the Daedalus String Quartet, a young and fresh chamber ensemble. The Daedalus players seem to work in all periods of music, with attention to particular current composers. Their concert Tuesday night at Richardson Auditorium focused on the turn of the 19th century and a composer whose work was commissioned for the ensemble.

Violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Thomas Kraines showed great ability to carry on a musical dialog among instruments, starting with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23 in F Major. Composed within two years of the composer’s death, this last of Mozart’s string quartets paid homage to Haydn but also showed the playfulness and humor of the Magic Flute.

The first movement, led by a sweet cello melody, featured delicate little phrases and sforzandi which were effectively brought out by the ensemble. Ms. Kim demonstrated very quick fingers in lively exchanges between the violin and cello. Mr. Kraines had a predominant role throughout the quartet, as evidenced in a long second movement melodic line. The Daedalus Quartet paid a great deal of attention to dynamic detail, which paid off in conveying the poignancy of the second movement and the clean parallel thirds between the violins. This work contained dynamic and musical suspense, showing the evolution of the genre that Beethoven would eventually claim as his own, but the four members of the Daedalus ensemble maintained a freshness to their sound, ending movements especially gracefully.

The Daedalus Quartet has long championed the music of American composers and recently premiered New York composer Joan Tower’s one-movement White Water. Like the water for which it was named, this work alternated between moving and staid music — tension and resolution. Ms. Thompson opened the work with a rich viola sound, as the other three instrumentalists employed languid glissandi up to a collective union. Intervals were exact, even when dissonant, and the ensemble drove repeated passages forward. As the pulsating chords moved together, it was clear to see why the Daedalus ensemble enjoyed performing this complex and intriguing work.

By the time Beethoven got a hold of the string quartet form, the genre had expanded to include a wide emotional range. Beethoven composed a number of his quartets in sets, one of which was Opus 59, dating from the height of the composer’s middle period. The Daedalus ensemble presented the first quartet of the Opus 59 set, with Mr. Kraines opening the piece with a rich cello sound. Especially after the fury of the Tower piece, Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 7 in F Major seemed to be intimate and personal to the players. The quartet was marked by an unusually fast second movement, with the same rhythmic drive and motivic intensity as the composer’s Symphony No. 5. The Daedalus players kept this movement heading forward, ending with a bit of Beethoven humor.

In the introspective third movement, the players seemed to be in their own worlds, yet cohesively together. An elegant and extended violin I trill led to a joyous fourth movement full of sparkle as the two violins blended together. The Daedalus Quartet moved smoothly through a typical series of false endings leading to a final flourish to close the work.

Among the many string quartet ensembles that spring up all the time, the Daedalus String quartet in particular possesses a youthful and buoyant sound which would make any concert of theirs enjoyable. Princeton audiences have become accustomed to hearing elegant chamber music in the summer, and they were certainly not disappointed with this start to the summer concerts season.