The Daedalus Quartet is a talented group of young players who occupy a central place in New York City’s musical life, sponsored by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and serving as Quartet-in-Residence at Columbia University. The group brings a hearty homogeneity of tone to the five-movement 1908 Intimate Voices Quartet of Jean Sibelius, the composer’s moody, introspective self-portrait after a bout with what might have easily become throat cancer. The Andante–Allegro first movement flits by quickly, as does the Vivace, taken from kernels in the opening movement. But the long Adagio di molto occupies a special, tonal world that teeters precariously between this life and a shadowy next world. Min-Young Kim’s violin takes on poignant significance in the throes of mortal thoughts. A heavy-footed Allegretto has viola Jessica Thompson intoning plaintively, the support strings muttering rather feverishly. The step-wise processions seem to derive again from the gems of the first movement. The final Allegro possesses the same manic energy as parts of the Violin Concerto, the rondo here calling on all parts to buzz and crackle with intensity. The writing echoes passages in the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, busy and threatening to explode.
Stravinsky’s Three Pieces (1917) appear after his Le Sacre du Printemps, but the musical means are decidedly Neo-Classic, the harmonies and textures spare and redolent of Schoenberg’s influence. Entitled “Dance,” “Eccentric,” and “Canticle,” they are less character studies than experiments in density and atomized sound textures. The Canticle, with its pagan-religious fervor, is twice the length of the others and adumbrates the composer’s late style. Daedalus plays these pieces carefully, offering them as strident foils to the two romantic works on both sides.
The 1903 F Major Quartet of Ravel has made an uneasy pact with the standard repertory, since only its spiritual father, Debussy, found in its lusty, angular pages few redeeming qualities. Kyu-Young Kim does the first violin honors in this genteel, loving realization of the piece, with cello Raman Ramakrishnan making his own points. The opportunities for color effects abound, as in the second movement’s call for pizzicati over sul tasto (over the fingerboard) figures; in the third movement, mutes dominate, and tremolandi in the fourth. The second movement carries the “hothouse flower” sensibility we find in a novel like Louys’s Aphrodite; even more erotically suggestive are the cello line and modal harmonies in the slow movement. Oriental languor provides the impetus for the last movement, and Daedalus makes fleet, shimmering work here. Even the sudden, harmonic clashes resonate with luxuriant beauty, a labor of love all around.
— Gary Lemco