in: Reviews

March 19, 2011

First-Rate, Lipkind Quartet

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If free, readers should head to new Rashi Auditorium in Dedham to hear them on Sunday, March 20. I would rate the Lipkind Quartet (Artiom Shishkov and Yusuke Hayashi, violins; Nora Romanoff-Schwarzberg, viola; Gavriel Lipkind, cello) as a first-rate group in sound, in togetherness, in sensitivity to the music they play.  I’ve heard many quartets where the players outdo each other in aggressive style.  This wasn’t one of those.  The Lipkind may bob and weave with the music like any other group, but they really know how to play a forte that isn’t fff, and a pianissimo that you really have to listen for.  And they listen particularly well to each other.

The title of the program at The Harvard Musical Association was “In Search of New Worlds.”  It ranged all over the place, from the teen-age Sergei Rachmaninoff to Samuel Barber at the latest (op. 11 String Quartet of 1936).  The Barber was in one sense the most ambitious work on the program, with the most drama and the widest-ranging assembly of gestures and styles.  The nominal key of the quartet is B minor, which makes the second movement, the famous Molto adagio in B flat minor, the more disturbing in its tonality.  We all know this lovely Adagio, but I’ve never heard it performed at a more glacially slow pace, for maximum expressiveness.  The Barber was preceded by a single movement called Night by Ernest Bloch, from the 1920s; its wandering chromaticism was wrought in plodding quarter-notes.  The Rachmaninoff Quartet no. 1 in F Major, an unfinished work (the first and last movements would probably have been in F major if they had been composed), was full of expressive and naive charm, and to my surprise it was the most successful piece on the first half of the program.

After the intermission came Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet of 1914, all of them short and gnarly, with complex dissonance; the first with mechanically-repeated overlapping ostinato fragments, the second with a recurring buzz chord alternating with a loosely singing melody, and the third a hymnlike study, almost completely atonal, with abundant ponticello and harmonics.  Like Acts II and III of The Nightingale, these pieces show Stravinsky exploring chromatic harmony that goes beyond the stormy surf of The Rite of Spring.

The lengthy program concluded with Dvorák’s beloved Quartet op. 96 in F major, the so-called “American,” composed in 1893.  It is full of pentatonic melody, which means also that much of its harmony is organized around the two triads possible in pentatony, relative major and minor.  It’s a good work, not as great as the “New World” Symphony, but it doesn’t try to be.

All these performances were excellent.  I hope to hear this fine group again, and would love to hear them in a program of (say) a Haydn, a Beethoven, and Berg’s opus 3.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert in Alban Berg, also Ravel and Debussy. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (PhD, 1967), he has published extensively on these composers and many music subjects, most notably, music harmony.

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