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When violist Kazuhide Isomura and three of his cohorts from the Juilliard School began the Tokyo String Quartet in 1969, they already shared a history that began in Tokyo's Toho School of Music under the guidance of Professor Hideo Saito (who also helped shape the career of conductor Seiji Ozawa).
Now, more than 40 years later, Isomura is the sole remaining founder of the ensemble and will see his streak at the core of this amazing group come to an end as the Tokyo String Quartet begins winding down its performance schedule with a farewell tour.
As violinist Martin Beaver noted (prior to the group's encore) it was a bit odd playing in Buffalo and not performing works by Ludwig van Beethoven, a probable reference to their earlier appearances playing in the Slee Beethoven Cycle. They did, however, slip a few Beethoven quartets into some of their Buffalo Chamber Music Society programs.
Instead they delivered a well thought out and warmly received concert that sandwiched Bela Bartok's last quartet between one of Franz Joseph Haydn's later masterworks and a take on Felix Mendelssohn's E minor quartet (Op. 44, No. 2) that emphasized the "romantic" character of the piece.
Haydn's String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74, No. 3 (nicknamed "Rider" for the loping rhythm pattern revealed in the first movement) is the best known of the quartet series that the composer dedicated to Count Anton Apponyi. The second movement Largo is one of the sweetest moments in Haydn's quartet catalog and the group approached it with warmth and passion, caressing the ears with concentrated beauty.
Bartok's String Quartet No. 6 was a different kind of beast, one whose beauties weren't necessarily as up front as those found in the Haydn score. There was drama aplenty, however, and it revealed the kind of in-depth interpretation that made this performance impressive. Isomura's viola began the work with a low, mournful sounding entrance that set up the rest of the piece's emotional impact for the other members of the group to follow. The total effect was like a harmonized dissonance with roots in Bartok's exploration of Hungarian folk material.
Mendelssohn's delightful work began with sparkle and gentility before giving way to sweet singing melody lines that eventually progressed to a more aggressive bounce that closed out the final movement.
After three curtain calls, the quartet returned for an encore performance, one that closed out the concert in a most fitting fashion by returning to an early work by Haydn, playing the finale from his Op. 20, No. 4. This was the perfect way to end an interesting program by a group whose presence on the international stage will be missed. Luckily, they took the time to come back here for a goodbye.