The musical genre of string quartet has existed since the Classical period,
yet it has never remained static, always evolving, always adopting new harmonic language, always captivating audiences with its intimacy and charm. The Pacifica Quartet, quartet-in-residence of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, showed the versatility of the genre by playing three incredibly different string quartets for The Friends of Chamber Music on Saturday. The featured works were Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in B-flat major, “Sunrise,” Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130, with Grosse Fuge, Op. 133.
The musicians played with gusto, adopting a no-holds-barred approach to the
Haydn and dispelling any suspicions of stuffiness. While their playing was
energetic, it was also extremely sensitive: they took great care to communicate with each other at every turn and to articulate every line carefully. The cliché goes that the string quartet is a musical conversation, a characteristic of the genre that was especially evident in this first piece’s second movement when the first violinist and cellist enjoyed a nice dialogue, exchanging lines back and forth. The Haydn was an excellent way to begin the program, allowing the ensemble to flex its muscles and making the audience excited for the music to come.
The Schnittke proved to be the star of the show. With quotations from Orlando di Lasso, Beethoven (incidentally, the Beethoven quartet that would end the evening), and Shostakovich, the piece was both vaguely reminiscent and intensely
unfamiliar. Music in a more modern idiom can make the listener apprehensive, but the four players made the Schnittke accessible and enjoyable.
The Beethoven quartet came after intermission and was perhaps designed to be the real substance of the concert; however, it ended up serving as a sluggish coda to the two excellent pieces that preceded it. This effect was in no way the fault of the performers, who, aside from a momentary unraveling in the Presto, played admirably, but it was instead the result of Beethoven’s daunting composition. The endless lines, meandering harmonies, and extended forms of this Romanti masterwork were emotionally taxing, and, while the Grosse Fuge did not disintegrate into harmonic oblivion like some Romantic fugues, Beethoven’s treatment of the venerable contrapuntal form was just as complex, involved, and confounding for modern ears as it was for those of his era.
This long, heady program was nevertheless not enough to mar the outstanding musicality of the members of the Pacifica Quartet, who brought these pieces to life with rare finesse and vitality. Their astonishing playing of this intimate chamber music captivated the sizable audience in the Folly Theater, and the wide range of their musical abilities was matched only by the vastness of the genre of the string quartet. Hopefully their playing also inspired the next generation
of string quartet musicians from the Kansas City Talent Education School, who performed in the lobby before the recital.
The Friends of Chamber Music
Saturday, October 26, 2013
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit www.chambermusic.org
Read the review here at http://kcmetropolis.org/issue/october-30-2013/article/string-quartet-through-the-ages