Since winning a spate of prestigious European prizes in 1990, the Budapest-based Keller Quartet has been riding a well-warranted buzz. Its recordings of string quartets by Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Ravel (all on Erato) reveal a mature ensemble sharp and taut in its playing and resolutely unsentimental and intellectual in its interpretation--unusual qualities for a group that's been performing together only a decade. The quartet is especially good with the folk-imbued modernism of Bartok (a recording of whose quartets is the Keller's ongoing project) and the austere, amorphous utterances of the postwar European vanguard. One living composer whose cause the Keller has made a point of championing is the 70-year-old Gyorgy Kurtag, a mentor to the Keller members at Hungary's Franz Liszt Academy. A less-appreciated contemporary of fellow countryman Gyorgy Ligeti, Kurtag throughout his career has tried to reconcile Bartokian impulses with the brevity and serialism of Anton Webern. Taught by Messiaen and later influenced by Stockhausen, he's preoccupied with elaborating on a few musical ideas and gestures in a short span of time, investing them with tension and vitality. His 1978 String Quartet no. 2, which the Keller will premiere here in its American debut, consists of 12 miniatures (called "microludes" by the composer, in reference to Bartok's Mikrokosmos) and lasts about 11 minutes. It traverses a spectrum of expressions from languid stillness to dramatic agitation. In the Keller's hands these largely self-referential aphorisms are strikingly incandescent. Also on the program are the Ravel's Quartet in F, Mozart's Quartet no. 15 in D Minor, and Bartok's Quartet no. 3. Friday, 8 PM, Ascension Church, East and Van Buren, Oak Park; 708-383-6456.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Keller Quartet.