Emory University's quartet-in-residence, the Vega Quartet, concluded their complete cycle of Beethoven's string quartets on Sunday. (source: video frame capture)

Review: Vega Quartet plays final installment of Beethoven’s complete string quartets

Mark Gresham | 05 NOV 2020

This past Sunday afternoon, the Vega Quartet performed the final concert in its complete cycle of string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven, in honor of the composer’s 250th birth year. The program was presented by the Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta on live-streamed video only from Emerson Concert Hall in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory University.

Once again, as in their last two concerts in the cycle, Vega Quartet violinist Jessica Shuang Wu, violist Yinzi Kong and cellist Guang Wang were joined by ASO concertmaster David Coucheron as guest 1st violin in this concert.

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According to ECMSA artistic director William Ransom, the group will be searching for a permanent replacement for former first violinist Elizabeth Fayette. Original plans were to have auditions this spring, but subject to the very strict COVID-19 guidelines of Emory University, where the Quartet is in residence, so they may have to wait til summer or even fall to do that. Until then, Ransom says, Coucheron will play concerts with Vega subject to his availability.

In Sunday’s program, the group performed three of Beethoven’s string quartets: String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95, No. 14 in C♯ minor, Op. 131, and No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 2.

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The Quartet No. 11 (“Serioso”) is the last of Beethoven’s heroic middle-perjod quartets, a rather compact affair that foreshadows elements of his later life styles. The performance, however, felt like it could have used issues of more rehearsal with bothersome issues of intonation and ensemble. The Quartet No. 14 is an imaginative work that is perhaps the best example of sophisticated structural integration among Beethoven’s quartets. It fared far better in this performance than No. 11. The show stealer, however, was the Quartet No. 9 (the third of what are known as the “Razumovsky” quartets) where the interplay among the musicians was audibly cohesive and feelings of assurance and exuberance were fully at play.

The next performance by the Vega Quartet will be as part a large collaborative “Chamber Music Showcase” concert by 13 of Atlanta’s top chamber musicians this Sunday at 2:00pm at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Unlike the Vega concert at Emerson Hall, which was live-streamed only, the upcoming event will be performed before a small in-person audience as well as live-streamed to the broader public. Information, tickets and the page for live-streaming for that upcoming concert can be found at www.firstpresatl.org/concerts-at-first.  ■