This Artemis Quartet concert was long by local standards, but most of the audience sat through the three hours of chamber music without fuss. No less impressive was the interlacing of three short works by Webern with Brahms' three quartets.
The glowing humanity of Brahms' musical poetry, so movingly brought out by Artemis, contrasted sharply with the atonal tension and laconic density of Webern's Five Movements for String Quartet and Six Bagatelles for String Quartet; Artemis provided a link between the two composers in the songful romanticism of Webern's early Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement), which opened the concert.
Overall, the young German group successfully conveyed the insight that Webern's intricate structure arises from the same Austro-German aesthetic tradition as Brahms' concern for classical rigour, and their music wasn't as different as might seem at first sight.
The players shared a mellow tone, a soft yet agile articulation, and a delicate, thoughtful style. Their immaculate rapport and precision made complicated textures sound limpid and graceful. Although they could be dramatic, their playing was often distinguished by heartfelt lyricism, as in the wistful slow movement of Brahms' second quartet, or Natalia Prishepenko's lark-like violin singing in the second movement of the third quartet. Another highlight was the melancholy-tinged subsequent movement, with absorbing violin-viola dialogue between Prishepenko and Volker Jocobsen.
After an encore of Webern's early song Aufblick (transcribed by violinist Heime Müller), Artemis was duly rewarded with generous applause, concluding an evening of wonderful music.