August 16, 2022

The public at large is rarely invited to a masterclass, and that’s a shame. Concerts in such small quarters, with a brief demonstration or talk, provide a rich experience for students, and would give any audience more reason to come see a show.

Sunday night in San Marcos, the Artisan String Quartet put on a powerful performance of Mozart and Tchaikovsky on the campus of Texas State University. It wasn’t a masterclass so much as a chance to see top-tier musicians in an intimate recital hall.

They played Mozart and Tchaikovsky, demanding and beautiful pieces of the chamber repertoire, with the technical precision and artistic flourish you would expect from some of Central Texas’ most esteemed classical players.

The Mozart “Quintet in C Major” pulled in Ames Asbell of the Tosca String Quartet to complete the set, adding maximum viola power to the middle register. It was a treat to hear Asbell working alongside Bruce Williams to play Mozart’s winding harmonies. Both are such expressive players that seeing them together is enough to make viola converts of us all.

The quintet is brimming with themes that rise, fall and intersect with a pulsating background, until they’re traded, unexpectedly, with another player. Artisan’s performance was assured, with astonishing communication between the voices.

Despite this musicality, the small room did allow the first violin’s higher pitches to overwhelm passages meant to highlight the violas; even with two instruments the alto voices were unable to compete.

After a brief intermission, the quartet took on Tchaikovsky’s most famous quartet, “String Quartet in D Major, op. 11,” the evening’s highlight.

The work feels like a full symphony that has been boxed inside four players. Its opening chords felt fresh, as they brought out a solemn country melody, and a gentle, thoughtful tone from the quartet.

Douglas Harvey’s cello playing was delicate, yet sustained, working in tune with Williams, whose viola sang passionately and confidently throughout the piece.
And the eerie second movement gave goosebumps as the quartet brought its sensitivity and lyrical form to the melody’s amused melancholy. Tchaikovsky’s winding runs were played with dynamics in full unison, moving beautifully through the piece — even the silences seemed musical.

Despite the small crowd, which consisted strictly of students (including one who talked, seemingly to himself, at increments throughout) the group brought a full professional weight. The room, despite being a few degrees colder than ideal, plays very warmly, and considering the pittance charged for such shows, they’re well worth the drive.

Hopefully Central Texans will take notice of the outstanding work being done both by the Artisan String Quartet, and other performers on the university’s schedule this semester.

The Artisan String Quartet repeats the program Saturday night at 8 p.m. as part of the St. Cecilia Music Series at First Presbyterian Church.

Luke Quinton is an American-Statesman freelance arts critic.

Luke Quinton Austin American Statesman, 360 Blogs, Austin Arts: Seeing Things September 15, 2010
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