The ode to Ludwig van Beethoven that is the Slee/Beethoven String Quartet Cycle at the University at Buffalo continued on Friday evening with a performance by the Jupiter String Quartet.
The group formed at Cleveland Institute of Music in 2001 when violinists Meg Freivogel and Nelson Lee and cellist Daniel McDonough teamed up, later adding Megan’s sister Liz as violist to complete the quartet.
The music of Beethoven is perhaps best characterized by its hopeful resiliency, its rugged harmonic sense, and its ever-engaging melodies that seem to pull the listener in with each earnest phrase. As for the Jupiter String Quartet, its sound is naturally open and bright, and the opening allegro movement of “Quartet in D Major (Opus 18, No. 3)” was a glowing example of the players’ lithe and ebullient rhythmic sensibility. With great energy, they attacked the notes with perpetual forward motion.
During the andante con moto, Jupiter played Beethoven’s sumptuous melodic snippets with ease and diligence. Violinist Lee projected an understated elegance, and violist Liz Freivogel elicited a warmth not always achieved on that instrument.
All four musicians possess a keen sensitivity to the dynamics prescribed by Beethoven.
The “Grosse Fuge (Opus 133)” was certainly the highlight of the evening. The players interpreted the piece with a fire and freshness that utterly belied the composition’s nearly 200-year history. It is as provocative and imaginative as the most poignant new composition today, so I can only imagine how forward-thinking the Fuge sounded to early 19th century audiences.
The violins and viola exchange emphatic two-note fragments, with ferocious resolve; the sheer force of the music is akin to a brewing and insatiable storm. Cellist McDonough’s performance here was particularly robust and captivating.
The Jupiter ended its program with “Quartet in F Major (Opus 59, No. 1),” one of the three string quartets commissioned by Count Andreas Razumovsky, then the Russian ambassador to Vienna. For the allegro section, Lee and Meg Freivogel were in perfect sync, and Lee drew out the concise yet gorgeous melodies subtly and with straightforward mastery. During the second movement, the musicians clearly relished every turn of phrase, every instrumental interplay, and every sudden change in volume or mood.
Beethoven was a savagely articulate composer who mingled struggle and beauty fluidly. The execution of his string quartets requires musicians who can master the score’s nuances, which enhance that harmonious contradiction between pleasure and pain.
With youthfulness and vibrancy fit for Beethoven’s full-throated vigor, the Jupiter String Quartet ensures the vitality and viability of string quartet performances for years to come.
The near-capacity audience recognized the rare quality of the performance, and responded in kind with a rousing standing ovation.
The Jupiter String Quartet will perform another set of Beethoven quartets at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in UB’s Slee Hall.