You might call it a warm-up for the 2013 Cliburn Competition -- even though there was no piano in sight.
It was a Cliburn Concerts program by the Brentano String Quartet, which will see a lot of action onstage at Bass Hall in the spring when it serves as the chamber-music ensemble for the Cliburn semifinals.
Judging by the concert Tuesday night at the Bass in Fort Worth, the musicians will be congenial partners for the young contestants. The members of the group are violinists Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin, violist Misha Amory and cellist Nina Lee. The "Brentano" is for Antonie Brentano, widely believed to be the "immortal beloved" of Beethoven.
Their program began with what was undoubtedly a rare find for most members of the audience: four fantasias by Henry Purcell. This 17th-century British genius composed a group of brief pieces for four viols that are lovely, melodic and gentle. In an abrupt change of styles, the quartet played Bela Bartok's String Quartet No. 4. It is thorny harmonically, with spiky melodies and a high level of energy except for a slower-paced center movement (of five). Cellist Lee was quite impressive here. A brief Haydn string quartet in D minor was a joyous high point for the concert. It was graceful, mostly calm, with some typical Haydn jauntiness and even more typical wit.
Brahms' String Quartet No. 2 was also mellow, if a little more substantial in length and with a sense of musical weight. The Brentano four gave it a glowing performance highlighted by one of Brahms' most gracious themes in the third movement.