Arts concert review

Jupiter String Quartet masterfully performs Beethoven

MIT guest artist delivers third concert of 2013 – 2015 Beethoven Cycle

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Jupiter String Quartet performed at Kresge Auditorium on April 4 as a part of The MIT Guest Artist Series.
Courtesy of jupiter string quartet

The Jupiter String Quartet

Beethoven String Quartet Cycle Concert III

Presented by The MIT Guest Artist Series

Kresge Auditorium

Apr. 4, 2014

Over lunch on the day of their first Beethoven String Quartet Cycle concert, I asked the members of the Jupiter String Quartet what makes their string ensemble unique. They answered that unlike many other musical ensembles, all the instruments in the string quartet are from the same family, meaning each voice blends uniquely with the others. The Jupiter String Quartet’s third Beethoven Cycle concert last Friday was dramatic validation of their answer.

The Jupiter String Quartet, formed in 2001, consists of violinists Nelson Lee and Megan Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel, Megan’s sister, and cellist Daniel McDonough, Megan’s husband. The tight-knit relationship between the four top-notch performers was evident in the consummate coordination of their performances. The Jupiter String Quartet has performed across the world, from the United States to Canada, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As an MIT Guest Artist, they are currently delivering a two-year-long cycle (2013-2015) of concerts featuring six all-Beethoven programs.

The Quartet’s third all-Beethoven concert was no less breathtaking than the first two. McDonough opened the program’s first piece, Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1, with a warm melodic line evocative of the arrival of spring. Underneath the welcoming melody, Megan and Liz provided harmonic support with repeated bouncing strokes and perfect bow control. Most memorable were the “conversations” between the instruments; the perfect execution of the brief fugal passage, in which the performers finished each other’s “sentences,” reflected each musician’s sensitivity to their music as a whole.

The resounding energy in their music, for which the Jupiter String Quartet is highly praised by many critics, was evident in the second movement. The buoyant motif of the scherzo reappeared many times, playful at times, and more edgy and urgent at others. The performers’ energy was constant throughout. By the end of the movement, Megan had already broken one of her bow hairs — a visible result of the musicians’ impassioned bow strokes.

After a somber, slow third movement — memorable for the musicians’ rich vibratos and sensuous blending of harmonies — a virtuosic bridge by Lee led into the fourth movement. His and Megan’s fluid runs and crisp trills again painted vivid pictures of spring. In the middle of the movement were many deceptive passages that tricked listeners into thinking the piece was about to end. While this continuously delayed ending may have confused casual listeners, the Quartet executed the finale of the piece with an unmistakably grand flourish.

The second and final piece that night, Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130, was as much of an emotional rollercoaster as the first piece. This quartet, unique in that it contains six movements instead of the conventional four, is considered by musicians a piece that is hard to follow. But the Jupiter String Quartet took on this challenging piece with mastery. The first movement, which alternated between a somber march and frantic melodic outbursts, demonstrated their careful ensemble work. The Presto showed all four string players’ precise bow control, while the following Andante con moto was memorable for the whimsical pizzicato passages. Following an elegantly embellished German dance in the fourth movement, and a soothing fifth movement with beautiful counterpoint, came the final movement.

Brisk and energetic, the Finale: Allegro featured a catchy motif that was passed back and forth swiftly between each string instrument. Similar to the last movement of the Quartet in F Major, the Finale had several musical cliffhangers that kept listeners at the edge of their seats. As the movement built up to a wildly boisterous finale, the musicians appeared to enjoy themselves, as evident in their swaying body movements and several traces of smiles.

The Jupiter String Quartet delivered two of Beethoven’s most challenging quartets — demanding in terms of both individual skill and close ensemble work — with exceptional finesse. As I applauded with the standing audience at the end of the night, I knew I would be back to hear the Jupiter String Quartet in their next all-Beethoven program.

The Jupiter String Quartet will be performing their next three Beethoven Cycle concerts in Kresge Auditorium on Fridays at 8 p.m., on October 17, 2014, November 14, 2014, and April 10, 2015.