Maverick Concerts’ classical series got off to a rousing start with two strong quartets (not a typo!) On Sunday, June 26, the Escher Quartet started things off with a superlative performance of Beethoven’s first published string quartet, Op. 18, No. 1 in F. The playing was so accurate you could have taken dictation from it, not only the notes but also the dynamic markings. (This was particularly true with Beethoven’s sforzandi, a startling sudden accent the composer was fond of.) The ensemble’s powerful sound made the music seem like late rather than early Beethoven, and that’s not a bad thing; he was, after all, the same composer throughout his life, and once he reached his maturity he was writing one profound masterpiece after another. The naive directness of the slow movement was particularly affecting, but this performance was outstanding throughout.
Last year the Eschers played Bartók’s First String Quartet at Maverick. This year they brought us his Second, and they told me they hope to complete the cycle of six over the next four years. I’ll be standing on line waiting to get in for the rest of the series. This performance began with a very direct reading of the opening Moderato which stressed its melodiousness despite the hail of dissonance surrounding the melody. The Allegro moderato capriccioso stressed its dance elements, while the way the dissonance of the Lento repeatedly dissolved into song made Bartók sound as lyrical as Beethoven. The concert concluded with Dvorâk’s next to last String Quartet, Op. 106 in G Major. The quality of this masterpiece justifies my frequent claim that Dvorák is a drastically underrated composer. If the piece has a fault it’s the composer’s characteristic discursive quality, but this performance brought the music together vividly with precision and warmth, very mellow when required. An outstanding afternoon!
On July 3, the Jupiter Quartet brought pianist Ilya Yakushev along for Shostakovich. The program began with the last of Beethoven’s Op. 18 Quartets, No. 6 in B Flat, providing an interesting contrast with the Escher performance of the week before. The Jupiters also played early Beethoven with big sound, but this group sounded more respectful of the traditional approach to early Beethoven Quartets, that they are directly descended from Haydn and Mozart. Still, this was a vivid performance with wide dynamics, large sound, and an amazingly fast tempo for the Scherzo. Probably the hit of the afternoon, though, was the String Quartet No. 1 of György Ligeti, still probably best known for the use of his music in Stanley Kubrick films (especially “2001”) but by now widely acknowledge as a 20th century master. This piece, written shortly before Ligeti escaped Hungary in 1956, has strong roots in Bartók and Hungarian folk idiom, but it’s definitely a generation later than Bartók. The Jupiter Quartet’s interpretation stressed the traditional elements in this music and also its considerable humor. To say that it won over the audience would be a drastic understatement. At the end the applause was blended with chants of “More Ligeti! More Ligeti!” (He wrote only one more string quartet but there’s plenty of other chamber music we could hear.) I could have gladly taken a break here but before intermission we also got Schubert’s famous and rather radical “Quartettsatz,” a powerful movement that the composer apparently couldn’t figure out a way to follow. Again it was quite well played.
Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet (in G Minor, Op. 57) is a kind of strange duck. It opens in a grimly tragic mood and ends almost frivolously. The players combined for a performance of real character, including Yakushev making brittle sounds and the strings greatly roughing up their tone in the Scherzo.
Saturday, July 9, the bansuri flute master Steve Gorn offers a program of Indian ragas with three colleagues at 8 p.m. (not always the time for Maverick Sunday programs so take note). On Sunday the popular Shanghai Quartet plays music of Mendelssohn and Grieg along with a work of the underplayed British master Frank Bridge, remembered mostly as Benjamin Britten’s teacher. Then on July 16, Jazz at the Maverick presents Amir ElSaffar and the Two Rivers Ensemble, again at 8 p.m. On Sunday, the 17th, the Horszowski Trio offers an intriguing program of music by Beethoven, Schumann, and the greatly honored Bard composer Joan Tower. You will find lots of information on this series atwww.maverickconcerts.org.
Alas, tornado warnings prevented me from getting to Aston Magna’s Mozart concert at Bard on July 1, but I’m determined to get to the season finale on July 8. The program is called “J.S. Bach: Sacred and Secular,” and includes one cantata of each type along with the Orchestal Suite No. 3. The wonderful soprano Dominique LaBelle, a highlight of past Aston Magna seasons, is one of six fine singers who join the ensemble of period instruments at Bard’s Bitó Conservatory Building at 8 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 7. Check www.astonmagna.org/calendar for more information. Later in July you’ll have a rare chance to see Mascagni’s opera “Iris” at Bard (July 22, 24, 29, & 31) along with three performances by jazz master Wynton Marsalis, two with his octet (July 23/24), the third with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (July 30). Check details and ticket availability at www.bard.edu/news/events.