After 45 years in the business, the Juilliard String Quartet is still without question the greatest quartet. Despite its longevity–a record that bests the Budapest’s and the Guarneri’s–the Juilliard sounds just as fresh, intense, and intellectually invigorating as ever. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Robert Mann, its first violinist and artistic guardian. Mann, the only founding member left, has an uncanny knack for finding novel ways to blend four distinctive personalities in interpretations that always come across convincingly and incisively. Each personnel change has become an occasion for fine-tuning the balance and readjusting the chemistry. So the way the Juilliard plays Bartok now may differ slightly from the way it did 20 years ago, but it is as valid and emotionally engaging. The newest Juilliard member, second violinist (and U. of Chicago alum) Joel Smirnoff, is more literal and intellectually stimulating than his predecessor, and the quartet has reinvented itself accordingly. In this recital the group will be joined by soprano Benita Valente for two works: In The Rewaking, written last year by MIT prof John Harbison specifically for this combo and set to four poems by William Carlos Williams, each member of the quintet, says the composer, is called upon to carry forward the theme of rekindling “a spirit from its winter.” In contrast, the soprano part in Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet no. 3 is secondary in the overall design, adding only color and texture. Brahms’s Quartet in C Minor, a familiar heavyweight of the quartet literature, rounds out the typically venturesome program. Friday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 702-8068.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jack Mitchell.