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The mythical Daedalus is said to have employed his wax and feather wings to fly all the way from Crete to Sicily. The Daedalus Quartet didn't make it to Sicily on this particular evening, but they did glide gracefully into Raleigh, touching down in the handsome old Smedes Parlor of Saint Mary's School.
It was the second visit to Raleigh for this young group. The first visit was almost exactly five years ago when they captivated the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild with Bach, Britten and Beethoven. In the meantime violinists Ara Gregorian and Min-Young Kim (alternating in first chair), violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan have appeared the world over, to effusive and merited praise from lovers of the finest in chamber music. And "chamber music" was the operative term of the evening. In the Mozart and Schubert selections, they chose "mature" quartets where all instruments participated more or less as equals. In both works, gone were the days when the first violin did most of the heavy lifting with the other three just chiming in.
The interpretive caliber of these players was evident from their first thrust into the Allegro opening of Mozart's String Quartet in B-flat, K.589. The effect was even cleaner in the Larghetto slow movement with the two appearances of the captivating trio of the "low" strings. (Close your eyes and it's 1956. Sitting there on stage are Joseph Roisman, Alexander Schneider, Boris Kroyt, and Mischa Schneider – the Budapest String Quartet. They are commemorating Mozart's bicentennial with the second of his three great "Prussian Quartets," K.589.)
The second half of the program featured yet another landmark of the genre, Schubert's String Quartet in D minor, D.810, popularly referred to as "Death and the Maiden." Most commentators hold that Schubert wrote this work in anticipation of his imminent death. Would such a lamentable condition be evident to the casual listener? Probably not, but throughout, the strains came across as properly somber, certainly without a hint of cheerfulness. Again, the players showed their impressive artistry from the opening unison attack by all the strings in the Allegro and on into the theme and variations of the Andante. Their animated playing style was on soul-stirring display as they imbued the Presto death-dance with the requisite vehemence, even a touch of terror.
Saint Mary's School has here continued its striking ability to attract the highest quality artists to the Smedes Parlor Concert Series. And for this, the thirtieth year of the Series, the School has reached a zenith of sorts with this world-class Daedalus Quartet. Saint Mary's and the full-house audience are particularly indebted to Henry and Tracey Smith for their generosity in making this magnificent concert possible.