The Tokyo String Quartet has to be one of the most egoless chamber ensembles on the touring circuit.
Its mission is to be a medium for the music of the masters, and it succeeds by translating each piece with such precision and elegance that if the composer were in the audience he'd stand and demand an encore.
Although listeners didn't make it to their feet Sunday afternoon at the Lied Center, their appreciation of the Grammy Award-nominated Tokyo String Quartet was nonetheless enthusiastic after the nearly two-hour concert that included works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and an encore of Tchaikovsky.
The concert opened with "String Quartet in D Minor, K. 421," by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The piece was composed while Mozart's wife was giving birth to their first son in the same room, and evokes myriad motifs, from agitation to serenity.
"String Quartet No. 1, Op. 49," by Dmitri Shostakovich, followed and challenged the ensemble with its ongoing variations, shifting moods and dazzling final movement.
The last selection on the program, "String Quartet in E Minor," from "From My Life" by Bedrich Smetana, reflected the composer's life -- from his first love to his passion for dancing to his tragic deafness. In the fourth movement, a single shrill note from the first violin symbolizes the ringing in Smetana's ears that signaled his impending hearing loss.
The quartet's members -- Kikuei Ikeda, violinist; Kazuhide Isomura, violist; Sadao Harada, cellist; and Mikhail Kopelman, the violinist who replaced Peter Oundjian after he injured his hand in 1996 -- perform with intelligence as well as dexterity and emotion.
It's hard to imagine classical music better than how they play it.
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