Chamber Music doesn’t get better than the program featuring the Borromeo Quartet and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman last Sunday afternoon, June 7, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. If the best music making is “the art which conceals art,” then perhaps the duty of someone reviewing it is to attempt to express the inexpressible, but let me try……
As an organist, I was intrigued by the opening piece, the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, the quintessential organ work, in an arrangement by Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Borromeo. Cellist Yeeson Kim paused for a few moments, as if in prayer, and then instantly set the right mood as she played the passacaglia theme with dynamic shadings no organist could summon from mere pipes. What made it even more fascinating was that her supple, limpid treatment of each note in the melody in this first statement evolved throughout the performance into a much more legato treatment, as the other voices entered and Bach’s magic cast its spell. The Borromeo almost seems, in the most high-minded way, to make love as they play, each musician sounding and appearing utterly dedicated to creating an ensemble which expresses the music in the most natural, legitimate and compelling way. I was impressed and enchanted, my only regret was the omission of a cadenza at the deceptive cadence near the end of the Bach fugue; this has become somewhat of a custom among organists, and I was curious about what these splendid musicians might have improvised or even composed for that dramatic fermata.
It’s a big leap from the Cantor of Leipzig to the music of Lera Auerbach, a Russian composer who was in the audience, and who spoke to interesting effect about her Quartet No. 3. Her seriousness of purpose was made more so by her ability to laugh with us at the curious human condition, and the music, at least to my ears, had very much the same effect. Auerbach music skirts around the “bleeps and blips” of so much contemporary music, and if, as she explained, this is the darkest, most introspective of her quartets, it would be interesting to hear her others. She provided a “program” for each of the eight movements, but indicated that she writes these notes only after the music is complete. Contrast of mood and feeling characterized the movements, which seemed just the right length to achieve whatever variety of effect was desired. Shostakovitch is quoted in the first movement, and Auerbach encouraged us to bring our own experience to our listening, telling us “we are what we remember.” Her music seemed to this listener to combine a hint of tonality with sharp rhythm, and varied gestural color, to outstanding effect. The last two movements included a brief chorale-like section, and a conclusion which descended ineffably into deep introspection. Auerbach also knows when she has spoken and it is time to move on to the next idea. It could not have received a more loving and brilliant performance. I look forward to hearing more from this composer.
Brahms’ introspective, late (1890) Op 115 Quintet rounded out the program, with clarinetist Richard Stolzman joining the Borromeo players. Seated in the middle, Stolzman from his first entrance sounded as though he’d been there forever, and this mature, introspective work of Brahms received a world-class performance from these splendid musicians. The ensemble was such that at one moment I had to look around to see whether it was the clarinet or viola uttering a phrase, so similar were the sounds. Such ensemble and shared utterance should never be taken for granted, and Brahms must have been smiling down on us.
Advice: get online right away, and if any tickets are left, get thee to Rockport, as fast as possible. If this concert is any indication of what goes on from day to day, week to week, you’re in for more than a treat. And they are building an exciting new hall right up the street, complete with air conditioning, which looks as though it will raise the bar even higher, if that is possible.