Fate! Beethoven's famous rhythmic motif so inextricably tied with his Fifth Symphony
turns out to appear all over the place. In last Wednesday's Ensemble Music program featuring the British-based Belcea String Quartet, their first and last works were dominated, in their first movements, by the fate motif. Haydn's surprisingly interesting Quartet in F-sharp Minor, Op. 50 No. 4, began the program. The Belcea's final work was the very familiar Schubert "Death and the Maiden" Quartet: No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810. In between came the relatively unknown Prokofiev Quartet No. 2 in F, Op. 92 (1941), which was not at all "fateful." Cast in three movements, the latter work seemed stylistically uncertain what to do with itself. Prokofiev, the neo-Romantic melodist of his late period, melded roughly with his youthful, "enfant terrible" years, the result being unconvincing in either direction. Otherwise, the Belcea players sailed through the work with excellent precision and beautiful cello playing in the last movement by Antoine Lederlin. Good precision and remarkable dynamic control marked the group's readings of the Haydn and Schubert as well. But ensemble imbalance was rampant throughout the program, with first-violinist Corina Belcea-Fisher conveying occasional pitch uncertainty, an indistinct, wavering vibrato and notable squeaking here and there -- all of which regrettably tended to dominate the other three players. The second violinist and the violist were largely covered by the top-notch cello work and the mediocre first violin.