Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Guarneri String Quartet: "Has No Superior on the World's Stages" -The New York Times

You know it is going to be a good concert if the first violin walks out with a polka dot tie. Just when you think life can’t get any better than trendy polka dot ties, a concert like this follows. The Miami Herald pretty much summed up all of my thoughts when they said, “Some things, like the Guarneri, are as good as it gets.” It is quite obvious that they have been together for quite sometime, for they are almost able to communicate solely through their music. At times, a reassuring gesture or glance could be caught, but it was as if they knew every next move of the other three.

Looking at their remarkable bios, all four members have studied with professors of the Curtis Institute of Music, arguably the most prestigious music school in the country. In addition to their successful careers with the Guarneri String Quartet, the members’ bios boast of performances with the highly regarded Beaux Arts Trio, professorships at top conservatories, and soloists with countless major orchestras around the world. At the end of a few of the musicians’ bios, he state the make of the instrument he plays, almost as if it is just as vital a part of his music-making as his education or previous experiences.

They started off their anything but “Bb” performance with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 22 in B-flat (no pun intended). The piece, written in a time of financial difficulty for Mozart in 1789, gave him a small amount of much needed money through a commission by the king of Prussia. The king, Frederick William, was himself a cellist and probably was the reason that Mozart placed an unusal amount of emphasis on this instrument that is all too often just used as a bass voice in the quartet setting. Within a couple minutes of the start of the piece, the cello’s prominence is first seen in a violin and cello duet followed by a relatively extensive solo.

A skip ahead of one hundred and fifty years in music, Richard Danielpour’s String Quartet No.5, which was made possible in part by a co-commission by DePauw, provided the much-needed contrast from the Mozart. Possibly the most exceptional part of the performance of this piece was the almost intuitive sense of balance that these musicians produce in their quartet while maintaining a healthy, full sound. In a piece that could easily become chaotic and nothing but rhythmic motifs, they definitely mastered the art of finding the melodic interest in the piece. The soloist was never covered despite the often technically difficult accompaniments as they seamlessly passed the melody between themselves.

Despite the seemingly endless intermission that pushed twenty minutes during which I had way too much time to visit the restroom…twice, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major was definitely worth the wait. If you made a list of the all that was absolutely brilliant about Ravel’s writing – the sweet, yet heart-wrenching harmonies, the melodies that seem to simply float above the accompaniments, the countermelodies that often rightfully so supersede the melodic line in interest, Ravel’s instinctual awareness of the balance between the instruments, his understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each instrument – it was all wrapped up in this one, four movement piece. Granted I would have enjoyed this piece had it been played by a middle school group, however, the quartet’s musicianship and execution made this an absolute delight to listen to. It was the highlight of my night. You know it was a good concert when you come out giddy and with an inextinguishable urge to practice.

Besides the intermission that lasted looked as if it would last longer than the entire second half of the concert, I didn’t have too many complaints. I think that Thompson Recital Hall would have acoustically served this small ensemble better than Kresge Auditorium. At some points, their sounds seemed to get lost in the large room and it just didn’t have the resonance that Thompson would have more readily provided for them. Visually, you could tell that the amount of sound they were putting out just didn’t match the smaller sound that was heard out in the audience. I think that the occasional lack of full sound, especially in the top violin voice, and the occasional intonation problem was partly due to this hinderance. Although the ensemble would have been better suited in Thompson, I understand the number of people wishing to attend forced them hold the concert in Kresge.