The Alban Berg Quartet
themselves at the work with reckless intensity and unyielding abandon. And every once in a while their effort will be rewarded with a vision of Jacob's ladder.
If there's a chance that Ann Arbor audiences will glimpse heaven this season, that glimpse will occur during the Alban Berg Quartet's performance in Rackham Auditorium on Monday, March 3. It'll probably come during the second half.
The Alban Berg Quartet is the best Central European quartet performing today. Eschewing flash and gimmicks, these musicians uphold the Central European tradition of quartet playing, a tradition that stresses intonation, technique, and ensemble along with lucidity, severity, and, above all, profundity. At Rackham, the Berg will be playing Alfred Schnittke's String Quartet no. 4 the bleakest and most vehemently expressive quartet written since the death of Shostakovich and Beethoven's numinous C-sharp Minor, op. 131.
Composed for, dedicated to, and premiered by the Alban Berg Quartet, Schnittke's Fourth Quartet is in five harsh and harrowing movements, three monumental Lentos interspersed with a burly Allegro and an angular Vivace. The Fourth's themes are gnarly and its developments gnomic; its language is atonal and its form evasive. But all this is beside the point. Above everything else, the Fourth is one long, lyrical prayer, full of suffering, bone-aching pain, and an unassuageable yearning for eternity.