in: Reviews

June 20, 2011

Jupiter’s Genius Pairing of Beethoven, Bartók

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The Saturday, June 18 performance seemed the logical conclusion for the two-concert visit of the Jupiter String Quartet to this year’s Rockport Music Festival. Having started their brief run with early and late Beethoven paired with Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtág (reviewed by BMInt’s Stefanie Lubkowski here,) the ensemble finished their stay at the Shalin Liu Performance Center with middle Beethoven — the String Quartet  No. 9, Op. 59 no. 3, in C Major, the last of the three “Razumovsky” quartets — and Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 3 (Sz. 85).

Jupiter’s read of the third Razumovsky quartet leaned towards the conservative. Consistently, Beethoven’s melodic effects were emphasized, but not exaggerated. The end reading was somehow stern: a dirge-like Andante second movement remained serious, not tragic; a lyrical third movement maintained grace without seeming playful. Yet the ensemble’s technical precision and attention to the construction of Beethoven’s line culminated in a performance that was impressively ebullient. Audience members couldn’t help but applaud after the first movement of the piece.

Is it too much to say that pairing the third Razumovsky with the third of Bartók’s string quartets is nothing short of genius? In Bartók, there is the element of the eccentric and strange, an entirely new sound-world of hair-raising col legno, uncomfortable sul ponticello, irregular rhythmic punctuations, uncertain glissandi that dissipate to unfamiliar tonalities. Saturday’s performance revealed that Bartók resonates strongly with Beethoven: here are the same classical forms, the similar sense of contrapuntal writing, same sensibility of melodic movement.

Perhaps most astounding in Jupiter’s performance of Bartók’s work was a strong sense of scope: a dramatic reading not only of diversity in dynamics but of dissipation and coalescence — sensibilities of individual and ensemble — propelled the work to its exciting conclusion.

The evening ended with Brahms’s haunting a-minor trio (Op. 114). Cellist Daniel McDonough collaborated with clarinetist Mark Nuccio and pianist Bonnie Anderson, subbing for an ailing David Deveau. The ensemble emphasized a surprisingly stark Brahms, listlessly toying with melodies: here, beautiful lines that exist outside meter, there, passages that seem to come straight from the Liebeslieder waltzes or chorales. Although Anderson’s piano, at full stick, sometimes over-powered the more subtle moments of the music, the seamless exchanges of melodic lines within the ensemble and a strong, unified sense of the work’s thesis among the instrumentalists ultimately culminated in an intimate, powerful read of Brahms’s subtle work.

The other members of Jupiter were violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel and violist Liz Freivogel.

It’s worth noting that the Jupiter String Quartet’s contributions at Rockport did not end with its evening performances. Formed while the members were in college in 2001, the young quartet offered a free children’s concert early on Saturday that introduced young listeners not only to the exciting works of Bartók and Shostakovich, but also to the less immediately accessible string quartets of Classical and Romantic composers. Certainly, we are lucky to have such an ensemble educating us.

Sudeep Agarwala is a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He performs with various choral groups throughout Boston and Cambridge.

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