in: Reviews

March 11, 2009

Constant Communication: The Muir Quartet with Menahem Pressler

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Once again, the editor feels called upon to bring to readers of The Boston Musical Intelligencer a concert that would otherwise not have been noted here. What a pity that would have been.

Watching pianist Menahem Pressler smiling benignly, turning to cue the various members of the Muir Quartet as they played the Brahms Quintet in F minor, op. 34, was one of the singular delights of the concert put on by the Concord Chamber Music Society on March 8. The communication was electric, the intonation and phrasing, breath-taking. What humanity he brings to his performances!

For this audience member, it stood in stark contrast to a group heard only two nights before – one that had played with superb technique, but missing was the sense of communication, the warmth of a good conversation, that was so apparent in the fine performance in Concord.

A number of members of the audience said they travel wherever Menahem Pressler is playing. No wonder. All the playing, by Peter Zazofsky and Lucia Lin, violins, Steven Ansell, viola, and Michael Reynolds, cello, was superb, but especially noticeable were the rich, full notes from Ansell’s fiorentina viola, notably in the Brahms.

A particular delight of the concert was Five Pieces for String Quartet by Erwin Schulhoff. I had never heard it before and felt pleasantly relieved to hear from other audience members that they did not know it, either. The five movements played on different musical motifs – waltz, serenade, Czech folk dance, tango, and tarantella – with readily identifiable antecedents and soul-mates, Schoenberg and Bartok’s Microcosmos, for two.

And the most striking element of this fine performance was its light-footed feeling. At the same time, the music is hardly fluff; it has a quirky intellectual development and catchy dissonance, sometimes poignant, as in the last chord of the Tango. The Muir caught what is illustrated in a quote from a letter Schulhoff wrote to Alban Berg in 1921, two years before the premier of Five Pieces: “I have a tremendous passion for the fashionable dances and there are times when I go dancing night after night with dance hostesses … purely out of rhythmic enthusiasm and subconscious sensuality; this gives my creative work a phenomenal impulse, because in my consciousness I am incredibly earthly, even bestial…”

It was all there in Five Pieces, along with humor. What a delightful piece!

First on the program was Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K. 546, and the encore was the Scherzo from Dvorak’s Quintet no. 2 in A major. op. 81.

A few years ago, the Concord Chamber Orchestra received a grant from Harvard Musical Association to commission Christopher Brubeck’s Danza del Sol. This reviewer attended its performance in 2006 with Frank Adams, then chair of the HMA Community (Henschel) Awards Committee. When Frank Adams died in June of last year, the Muir Quartet – with only two day’s notice – played pieces Frank had chosen for his memorial concert at Old South Meeting House.

The Muir Quartet played their hearts out then; they did so again, last Sunday.

2 Comments

  1. Dear Ms. Norton
    A wonderful review of a delightful musical event that will be long remembered.

    We were delighted by our chance encounter after the concert, and we are grateful to you for introducing to us the on line site which we will be viewed often.

    We have followed the Baux Arts Trio for many years and in our annual stay in Paris we even attended every one of his Master Classes. Because, as I was telling this to Menachem, that I was coming to his classes not as a musicologist but to emulate his teaching style in my own classes, that after more than 40 years of teaching I can still learn from him how to impart passion, enthusiasm, sincerity and love to his pupils and audience. Menachem, at his old age, is still as youthful and gleaming as always, and this why we came to hear to absorb the musical gifts from this rare precious human specimen in a live concert. He is truly endowed with that unique magical ability to infuse his enlightening soul to every member of the team that are fortunate to produce the music that still reverberates among his audience.

    Thank you again for your wonderful review.
    Joe and Monique

    Comment by Joseph Stern — March 11, 2009 at 10:50 pm

  2. Thank you for your review with which I fully agree. One of the gifts that Menahem Pressler brings to us and chamber music is that we forget that a trio or a quattuor or a quintet is made of different instruments. He manages to create a unique layered and wonderfully complex sound that is pure music. Thank you for introducing us to the Intelligencer.

    Comment by monique simson stern — March 13, 2009 at 10:04 am

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