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Musical Paradise

The Artemis Quartet shines at Urbana's Krannert Center,


They walk onto the stage wearing black. An image flashes into my mind -- is it The Beatles walking on Abbey Road? -- or maybe it is the Artemis Quartet's picture in front of a subway featured on the group's webpage at First violinist Natalia Prischepenko's golden sash shimmers in the Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center in Urbana, Illinois, USA, as the musicians sit down, smile at each other and take a deep breath.

The Artemis Quartet, hailing from Berlin, Germany, delighted the diverse audience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's famous concert hall, on Thursday 8 February 2007. The hall, built in 1969, has incredible acoustics and has attracted many international performers and received praises from critics worldwide.

Opening with Johannes Brahms' Quartet in B flat, Op 67, the Artemis Quartet takes the audience on a musical whirlwind. The playful character of the first movement (Vivace) is emphasized by the pronounced rocking motions of violinists Heime Müller and Natalia Prischepenko, and cellist Eckart Runge. Violist Volker Jacobsen is less expressive bodily, but the soul of the piece comes out in the viola solos, especially in the third movement (Agitato -- Allegretto non troppo), while Runge's pizzicatos feel like he is plucking the strings of my heart. Brahms' music is rich and warm, and wonderfully rendered by this quartet.

The next piece on the repertoire is by Anton Webern, a student of Arnold Schoenberg and a promoter of the twelve-tone technique. Webern's Five Movements for String Quartet Op 5, is not as beautiful aurally as it is musically. However, with incredible mastery and control over their instruments, playing barely audible but clear harmonics, and making very good use of bow speed, the performers make the nails-on-a-chalkboard-sounding piece almost bearable, if not pretty. The hall is quiet; you can hear people leafing through the program notes, moving in their seats and then someone coughs. The cough is incredibly loud compared to the piece performed, leaving the audience a little bit unsettled. At the end, a sigh of relief is heard -- people have been holding their breaths for what seems like an eternity.

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Copyright © 19 February 2007 Sonja K Stojanovic, Illinois USA


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