Each year the movie industry gives out Oscars for the best performances in supporting roles. It’s too bad that there’s no similar award in chamber music. If someone would kindly fund one, I’d like to nominate Estelle Choi, the cellist of the Calidore String Quartet.
That charismatic young ensemble has garnered recognition recently for its remarkable blended sound and musical conviction, including the $100,000 M-Prize last year from a chamber music competition hosted by the University of Michigan. On Thursday at the Rose Studio, in a program presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the quartet demonstrated extraordinary charisma, style and energy in works by Ligeti and Mozart. But it was Ms. Choi I couldn’t take my eyes off, especially during Mozart’s Viola Quintet in C (K. 515, in which the group was joined by the veteran violist Paul Neubauer), where the cello mostly helps the divalike first violin shine.
Ms. Choi imbued the opening rising arpeggio with such tense energy that it sounded like an urgent question. The first violinist, Jeffrey Myers, responded with gracious figures played in a melting tone, setting up a genial dialogue. As the first movement flowed through its development, it was always Ms. Choi’s thoughtful playing that determined the character of a particular modulation: sunny or hesitant, a challenge or a reconciliation.
The Andante is a wistful pas de deux between the first violin and the first viola, here the Calidore’s Jeremy Berry, who produced an unusually bright and tangy sound. It was lovely to listen to the two players assert their individual voices, even as they finished each other’s sentences. But the last word belonged to Ms. Choi, who buttoned up the movement with three plucked notes as discreet as they were authoritative.
The first half of the program was given over to Ligeti’s single-movement Quartet No. 1, subtitled “Métamorphoses Nocturnes.” In this visionary work, the ensemble often functions as a unit, creating an array of strange effects. The Calidore players performed it with synergistic brilliance and ferocious commitment.
The quartet’s palette ranged from the subtle and creepy, as in the insectoid chromatic stirrings of the opening, to grunge-band grit. A few bars of barely felt hummingbird trills morphed into a section of full-throttle, aggressive tremolo bowing. In this environment of unpredictable sounds, individual voices unfolded with quiet drama and sly wit.
The second violinist, Ryan Meehan, brought a slender, singing tone to a poignant solo early on. Ms. Choi gave wonky menace to a walking bass line of plucked notes, one of which rang out with an explosive ping when the string snapped against the fingerboard. Out of somewhere, a waltz emerged, a little tipsy on its feet. Extravagant slides evoked cartoonishly inebriated characters trying to walk with buckling knees.