The Orlando String Quartet, with minimal American exposure, has established itself as one of the leading quartets in the world today, a status unequivocably confirmed by the group’s superior concert Friday night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Orlando Quartet is based in Holland and comprises four men from Central or Eastern European countries – Istvan Parkanyi, violin, of Hungary; Heinz Oberdorfer, violin, of West Germany; Ferdinand Erblich, viola, of Austria, and Stefan Metz, cello, of Rumania.
They got together as a quartet in 1976, but only made their first American tour last season, after attaining considerable European prominence. Friday’s concert was their only New York appearance as part of their second United States tour, but at least they are more widely available through their Philips recordings.
There are standard musical virtues that all first-rate quartets share: matched (or neatly complementary) tone from instrument to instrument; an ability to phrase as if one shared intelligence guided all four players; a distinct musical personality, and a command of a wide range of the quartet repertory from the 18th to the 20th centuries.
The Orlando players evince most of those virtues, although their skills in modernist repertory have not yet been exposed here. As far as unanimity of tone and phrasing is concerned, they need fear none of their present-day competition. Yet unlike some quartets, in which the subsidiary players seem molded in the image of a dominant player (most often the first violinist), the Orlando musicians always seem to maintain a refreshing, individual spontaneity within their corporate outer identity. To hear Mr. Metz pounce upon a lyrically propelling pizzicato line in Hugo Wolf’s ”Italian” Serenade, for instance, was to realize that not for a minute is his personality subordinated to anyone’s.
While the Orlando performances seem most immediately marked by a heartfelt delicacy and lyricism and a nimble wit, they don’t for a moment slight more impassioned utterances (if there was any such slighting on Friday, it was by the dry acoustics of the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium). There is plenty of intensity, too, but it is not obtained by the martial pressing that seems too common with American quartets. Such rigidity stems from the ”objective” reaction against late Romanticism in Central Europe in the 20’s and 30’s and propagated here by refugee musicians. The Orlando players epitomize the new Romanticism common among younger performers and composers both here and abroad, but they never push their emotionality to bathetic extremes.
Aside from its delightfully buoyant, propulsive yet songful account of the ”Italian” Serenade, the Orlando Quartet offered Mozart’s Quartet in D minor (K. 421) at the outset, and concluded with Schubert’s Quartet No. 14, again in D minor (”Death and the Maiden”). It was a distinguished evening, and for all the Rogers Auditorium’s limitations, one hopes the group’s success won’t enforce a too- rapid removal to the impersonal vastness of our major midtown concert emporiums.