For a musical ensemble with a famous name, legacy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a storied name can grab attention. On the other, an illustrious history can be burdensome when it sets up expectations that are difficult to live up to. The Pro Arte Quartet, which performed at Weill Recital Hall on Wednesday evening, is presumably acquainted with both sides of the issue.
A more striking pedigree would be hard to imagine. Founded in Belgium in 1912, the original Pro Arte Quartet played for royalty; introduced new pieces by composers like Schoenberg, Bartok and Barber; and recorded regularly, including sessions with the pianist Artur Schnabel. The group’s 1926 American debut at the Library of Congress was followed by frequent tours of this country.
Stranded here by Hitler’s invasion of Belgium in 1940, the quartet was taken in by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where it established a performing and teaching residency claimed to be the first of its kind at a major American university. According to the group’s Web site, (proartequartet.org), 26 musicians have been part of the quartet at one time or another.