Mark Gresham | 05 OCT 2020
On Saturday evening, the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta presented the fifth installment of the complete string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven, as performed by the Vega Quartet, in celebration of the composer’s birthday.
As was the case in their concert on September 19, the fourth in the complete Beethoven cycle, Vega violinist Jessica Shuang Wu, violist Yinzi Kong and cellist Guang Wang were joined by ASO concertmaster David Coucheron as guest 1st violin, and the performance was live-streamed only from the Schwartz Center Virtual Stage — this time with with new, enhanced capabilities. Instead of a single, static camera showing the Quartet from dead center, the video appeared to use a three-camera setup and smooth, unobtrusive cross-fades in the switching between them. This puts the Schwartz center on a par with those of several other important university concert halls in the metro-Atlanta area, as well as some of its video-capable churches.
Some occasional variation in the shots from left and right cameras added a little more variety, comparable to what online audiences have seen recently in virtual concerts from First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, but instead of that church’s more generalized lighting, we got the more dramatic, focused stage lighting of the Schwartz Center’s excellent Emerson Hall, as we did in the previous Vega concert broadcast from The Schwartz.
This time, the audio did not feel quite as hot – on the upper edge, that is – but still full, robust and with much presence. It still hot enough to for me to turn down the volume a notch with headphone, but someone watching with home theater system may have enjoyed the impact of full volume. When the Quartet played short, accented forte chords followed by silence, the audio picked up on the empty Emerson Hall’s reverberance, adding a kind of afterglow to the Quartet’s already rich sound. Also, the sound of pizzicati was much better on this occasion, rather than possessing an edge of snappy harshness. There was a very enjoyable if still assertive sonic character to the production overall, with attractive although not complex visuals.
On the downside, there were a few small problems with the live streaming itself. I experienced some occasional flicker in the video stream, momentary loss of image in flashes to black, although there were there were not drop-outs of the audio concurrent with them, and a ery few hesitations of both audio and video. These could have just as easily as anything have been generated by my ISP — hard to know. All of these problems were absent in the on-demand playback after the live event was over, having only occurred during the live streaming. If you go watch the on-demand video now, you’ll find that those artifacts thankfully don’t exist in the recorded video itself.
On this particular Saturday evening, the Vega Quartet performed three of Beethoven’s string quartets, one from each of the composers three stylistic periods: String Quartet No. 6 (Op. 18, No. 6) from the early period, No. 10 (Op. 74, known as the “Harp” quartet) from his middle or “heroic” period, and No. 15 (Op. 132) from the late period.
In his introduction to the concert, ECMSA artistic director William Ransom commented that the early string quartets took the genre beyond the reach of amateur players, the middle quartets beyond the reach of professionals of the day, and the late quartets beyond the reach of everybody. But today, Beethoven’s string quartets are canonical repertoire, including the deeply complex late ones.
The Vega Quartet gave consistently engaging performances of all three, allowing their differences in the styles speak for themselves, their evolutionary common denominator being “signature Beethoven.”
The final program in Vega’s complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets is scheduled to take place in November 1, once again from the Schwartz Center Virtual Stage. ■