The Pacifica Quartet likes to think big -- and in the chamber music field, that often means doing cycles.
Some adventurous listeners remember the evening at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall in 2003 when the Pacifica served up all five of Elliott Carter’s notoriously knotty string quartets in one mighty scoop; after that, you figured that from then on, everything else would be a piece of cake for them. There were more cycles to come -- most recently, two volumes of an emerging CD project on the Cedille label, “The Soviet Experience,” that will link all 15 Shostakovich quartets with four by his Soviet colleagues.
However, the Pacifica did not have omnivorous feats in mind when it visited UCLA’s Royce Hall on Wednesday night -- just Beethoven’s Quartets Nos. 4 and 8, and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 9, plus the spiky, humorous, Allegretto pizzicato movement from Bartók’s Quartet No. 4 as an encore.
Live, the Pacifica sacrifices some of the smooth, virtually immaculate surface that it displays on its recordings. But in return, there was a big gain in dramatic tension and fire, with all four players listening intently to one another.
Though it is one of Beethoven’s early Op. 18 quartets, the No. 4 could take the Pacifica’s emphatically-accented, forwardly-pushed approach more in stride than some of the others in Op. 18 might have. The Beethoven Quartet No. 8 at the end of the night was even better -- from the first movement’s big symphonic chords to the perfectly sprung rhythms and fast tempos in the third and fourth movements.
On the Pacifica’s Shostakovich CDs, the group usually stakes a middle ground between the Emerson Quartet’s fierceness and the Fitzwilliam Quartet’s warmth. Live in the Quartet No. 9, the Pacifica leaned more toward the former approach, identifying with the wildness in the third and fifth movements, bearing down hard toward the conclusion with terrific momentum.
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-- Richard S. Ginell
Photo: The Pacifica Quartet, from left, Sibbi Bernhardsson, Brandon Vamos, Masumi Per Rostad and Simin Ganatra. Credit: Anthony Parmelee.