The 2012 Cleveland Quartet Award-winning Jasper String Quartet presented a concert of Haydn, Ligeti, and Ravel for The Friends of Chamber Music and UMKC Conservatory’s Music Alliance.
Despite being woefully under-attended, the Jasper String Quartet’s Friday night performance in White Recital Hall for the Music Alliance showed a young string quartet with much promise. Having already earned the 2012 Cleveland Quartet Award, two excellent CDs to its name, frequent recital and residency appearances, and numerous commissioning project, the Jasper Quartet (J Freivogel, Sae Chonabayashi, violins; Sam Quint, viola; Rachel Henderson Freivogel, cello) are carving a notable swath through the U.S.’s chamber music circles.
The Quartet opened with Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2. Though nothing was revolutionary about their performance, it was a fine reading of this late Haydn quartet. Cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel’s instrument produced such a robust sound it was almost distracting in the Classical-era work. But her duet with husband J Freivogel on first violin in the Andante third movement was exquisite and passionate. Each variation of the theme built in intensity and the slow burn to powerful climaxes was well paced. The pre-scherzo second movement was filled with playful tempo manipulations which were organically performed. The trio section was gorgeous in its diaphanous textures and well balanced approach.
Jasper shone on the György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, (“Métamorphoses nocturnes”). Like Saturday’s Naughton sister performance this performance of a twentieth-century work was inarguably the best of the evening. The challenging piece was riveting to hear and watch. Between extremely chromatic harmonies, microtonality, and moments of astounding clarity, the work is a master class of composing for a modern string quartet, and the musicians of Jasper took to it as if it were second nature. The standout sections were the
rhythmically aggressive Vivace, capriccioso; Sae Chonabayashi’s yearning second violin feature in the Andant tranquillo; the drunken Tempo di valse; and the Prestissimo that, with its descending cello ostinato, was the inverse of the composer’s Fanfares in the first book of piano etudes.
An early piece of Ravel’s, his String Quartet in F Major, does not contain many of the popular Ravelian elements. Yes, there are the moments of parallelism and Impressionist abstraction, but it never congeals into a cogent whole. Fraught with overly aggressive playing (which even popped J Freivogel’s string at one point) th performance occupied this space of toothless Romanticism without Impressionistic subtlety. It was a bizarre realm to inhabit. The lone shining moment came with Quint’s gorgeous viola solo in the Très lent.
When a group can perform Ligeti as well as this, why bother with Haydn or Ravel? They brought nothing new tthese staid pieces, while selling a much more challenging work with grace, musicality, and conviction. There are countless groups that can perform Haydn and Ravel but few and far between are those that can pull off Ligeti in such an astounding measure.