My favorite recording by the Juilliard Quartet, out of the zillions it’s made during its 50-year career, is one featuring the sole string quartet by Verdi and the quartet in D minor by Sibelius–that is to say, works by two composers with absolutely zero reputation for chamber music. To me, that’s the real test for classical musicians: not how they handle the standard repertoire, but whether they’re able to make something out of pieces nobody else can be bothered to play. The Juilliard’s Verdi was nicely balanced between florid lyricism and formal concision; and while the Sibelius was maybe not quite peculiar enough–Sibelius gave this insinuatingly spooky work the title Voces Intimae, which means, loosely translated, “voices in the head”–the performance did brilliantly demonstrate how classical and solid the architecture was beneath the dark and wayward surface. It was this recording, even more than famous dazzlers like Bach’s The Art of Fugue or Elliott Carter’s ultrafreaky quartets, that persuaded me that the Juilliard was perfectly capable of playing every single string quartet in the history of the world with the same intelligence, sympathy, and stunning technical virtuosity. Nothing that’s happened since then, not even the recent retirement of founder and first violinist Robert Mann, has suggested otherwise. This concert will be the quartet’s only Chicago appearance this season; on the program, if it matters, are Mendelssohn’s String Quartet no. 2, Ravel’s String Quartet in F, and Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 3. Sunday, 3 PM, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 1977 South Campus Dr., Evanston; 847-835-5084 or 847-491-5441. LEE SANDLIN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Don Husstein.