Arianna String Quartet getting high marks for latest release, which completes cycle of Beethoven quartets

by | Mar 4, 2024

The quartet, made up of UMSL faculty members Kurt Baldwin, John McGrosso, Joanna Mendoza and Julia Sakharova, released "Beethoven: The Late Quartets" in 2023.
The Arianna String Quartet performing in the Lee Theater

Members of the Arianna String Quartet – (from left) John McGrosso, Julia Sakharova, Kurt Baldwin and Joanna Mendoza – perform music from Beethoven in the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photo courtesy of Arianna String Quartet)

The renowned Arianna String Quartet has received rave reviews for its latest release, “Beethoven: The Late Quartets,” with critic Jerry Dubins of Fanfare calling them “beautifully played, deeply felt, truth-seeking performances that more often than not find that truth.”

The four-disc set, released last year, marks a milestone for Kurt Baldwin, John McGrosso, Joanna Mendoza and Julia Sakharova, all members of the faculty in the Department of Music at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. It completes the cycle of Beethoven string quartets by the group.

“In the world of classical music, and more specifically of chamber music and string quartets, there is no standard bearer that is higher than the complete string quartets of Beethoven,” said Baldwin, who teaches and performs on cello. “Each of the 17 pieces demonstrates revolutionary change in ideas and expression and captures the fragility and power of the human condition in deeply moving and profound ways.

“Performances of any of these works demand technical command of the instruments, and an understanding of how Beethoven uses the four instruments of the string quartet together to create an intensely effective listening experience for the audience.”

The Arianna String Quartet has been working toward the completion of the cycle for a decade, and it constitutes more than nine hours of music, including the two-disc early quartets, the three-disc middle quartets and now the four-disc late quartets.

“Recording the Beethoven cycle is a huge milestone for any quartet as a historical record of our relationship to the music,” said Mendoza, who chairs the Department of Music and is a professor of viola. “Music, sound, is so ephemeral. Recordings are our proof, albeit a snapshot, of the manifestation of technique, research, philosophy and emotion in our work.”

Baldwin said they tried to make their recordings capture the experience of a live concert, full of life and spontaneity, but they wanted to make sure they showcased the brilliance of the music, allowing listeners to find new things each time they hear.

“Taken together with the ensemble’s previous sets of the early and middle quartets, this, in my opinion, places the Arianna in the top tier of Beethoven string quartet cycles,” Dubins wrote in his review for Fanfare.

It was gratifying to see their work so well-received by critics.

“The positive reviews are always great to get because our process involves being isolated so much of the time,” Baldwin said. “That’s one of the great ironies of being a musician – the huge amount of time spent practicing, preparing, experimenting and searching in our process is offset by less time in live performance. We savor performing and sharing the music with our audiences, especially at the Touhill in the Lee Theater. The Lee Theater is our performance laboratory, where we can test our theories in creating drama and storytelling with the music.”

Audiences don’t have to wait long to hear the next drama play out. The Arianna String Quartet is set to continue its concert series at 7:30 p.m. with “Arianna Quartet with Kyo-Shin-An Arts” in the Lee Theater at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The performance is part of UMSL Global’s International Performing Arts Series.

Share
Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens
Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.

Eye on UMSL: Tending the gardens

Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.