in: Reviews

September 5, 2011

Daedalus Quartet + One in Schoecking Success

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In the only one of three concerts scheduled for this weekend that actually took place, the Daedalus Quartet brought a varied and successful program to Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 3. First violinist Min-Young Kim enlivened Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet (Op. 33, No. 2) with her own tasty embellishments and even a small cadenza in the finale; otherwise the performance was stylish, convincing, and, when appropriate, downright funny. Schumann’s Quartet No. 1, calling for quite different performance qualities, fared equally well, the speed of fast movements not interfering with their expressive nature. Baritone Andrew Garland joined the ensemble for a real rarity, Othmar Schoeck’s Notturno, a large song cycle for baritone and string quartet in a very late romantic idiom. Garland sang beautifully and melded very well with the strings. The audience awarded Standing O’s to both halves of the program.

The 2011 Maverick Concerts season in Woodstock was supposed to conclude on Sunday, Sept. 3, with a concert by the Daedalus String Quartet. That program did occur. But Hurricane Irene interfered drastically with other plans for the last two weekends. A scheduled chamber orchestra concert for Sept. 2, featuring a downsized version of Bernstein’s “Songfest,” had to be postponed until the 2012 season, which it will open. Pianist Ilya Yakushev will perform his concert, originally scheduled for Sept. 2, on Sunday, Sept. 11, at 4 p.m. And the Shanghai Quartet concert, with pianist Joel Fan, originally planned for the day of Irene, will be performed on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 5 p.m.

Every once in a while something occurs at a concert which startles and pleases me. That happened as the Daedalus Quartet performed Haydn’s Quartet in E Flat, Op. 33, No. 2, the “Joke,” perhaps the most appropriately nicknamed of any of Haydn’s works. In the first movement, I began to notice first violinist Min-Young Kim adding little embellishments and decorations to Haydn’s text. This continued throughout the piece, with sparing but noticeable deviations from the score, culminating in a delicious little cadenza Kim added in the final movement.

Endorsing the practice of embellishing scores from early baroque through early Beethoven has become a real crusade of mine in recent years. It’s gratifying to hear an increasing number of performers doing this, not only early music specialists but also generalists like Vladimir Feltsman and Paula Robison. But I’m sure I’ve never heard a string quartet fiddling with texts like this, and it was most pleasing.

There were plenty of other virtues in this performance. I found the first movement crisp, impeccably played, and charming. The group emphasized Haydn’s comedy in the Scherzo, with some smile-inducing portamento in the trio. The slow movement was quite affecting, and I greatly enjoyed Jessica Thompson’s rich, almost chewy viola sound. And then the finale, fast but clear, exciting, and that final joke as funny as I’ve ever heard it.

Schumann’s music may be a world away from Haydn’s, but the DSQ did equally well with his Quartet No. 1, in A Minor, Op. 41, No. 1. The approach was big, mellow, and highly expressive, and again I found a slow movement affecting. The Scherzo was played so fast that a repeated three-note figure sounded instead, most of the time, like a dotted two-note. But it was otherwise clear, and so was the very rapid finale. This performance earned a very rare Standing O at intermission from the audience.

Russell Platt, an accomplished composer who definitely knows more about music than I, introduced Othmar Schoeck’s Notturno as sounding like a mixture of late Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Blue Note jazz. I didn’t get that combo. To me, this piece – which I know I heard once, on a recording, decades ago – sounds mostly like Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht in the strings with a mixture of Wagner and Mahler writing for the baritone solo. Schoeck, a Swiss composer who lived from 1886 to 1957, is largely forgotten today. Some orchestral works of his are attractive, and this large-scale song cycle (41 minutes in this performance), settings of Lenau poems, made a strongly positive impression. The highly chromatic idiom is mostly atonal, but it has tonal interludes and ends with a very sweet and thoroughly tonal section (the only setting of a different poet, Gottfried Keller).

The Daedalus Quartet learned the music just for this performance, but I would never have known that from its lush, expressive playing. Baritone Andrew Garland, who scored a great hit here last summer in Barber’s “Dover Beach,” sang very expressively and balanced extremely well with the strings. It would have been more pleasant to know exactly what he was expressing, but, unlike last week’s Wolf “Italian Song Book,” Maverick didn’t supply the texts of the poems. It was still a worthwhile experience, and the audience awarded it a second Standing O. In the only one of three concerts scheduled for this weekend that actually took place, the Daedalus Quartet brought a varied and successful program to Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 3. First violinist Min-Young Kim enlivened Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet (Op. 33, No. 2) with her own tasty embellishments and even a small cadenza in the finale; otherwise the performance was stylish, convincing, and, when appropriate, downright funny. Schumann’s Quartet No. 1, calling for quite different performance qualities, fared equally well, the speed of fast movements not interfering with their expressive nature. Baritone Andrew Garland joined the ensemble for a real rarity, Othmar Schoeck’s “Notturno,” a large song cycle for baritone and string quartet in a very late romantic idiom. Garland sang beautifully and melded very well with the strings. The audience awarded Standing O’s to both halves of the program.

Leslie Gerber lives in Woodstock, New York. He has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

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