in: Reviews

January 27, 2012

Zaïde’s Ineradicable Impression at NEC


From their very first notes sounded in unison, Quatuor Zaïde gripped a smallish yet discerning audience, thrusting it into that resonant and perfect space of New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall with miraculous coups via Mozart, Beethoven and Wolf. Since their formation just  three years ago, one would ask how Zaïde’s jeunes françaises could even think of tackling the likes of a “Prussian No. 3” or an Op. 131, not to mention the Sérénade italienne, all with ineffable élan thoroughly meshed with astonishing poise.

At times, there were passages in the Beethoven that felt as though a bit more (lightness in the fifth movement, Presto) —sometimes a bit less (leaning on each and every note in the first movement’s fugue, Adagio ma non troppo e molto expressivo) —  could have still further heightened Beethoven’s late work’s thickly populated scheme. Besides that, all of the rest of their heady program, that included some of the most mature works around, made Jordan Hall a special space — the place to be. No doubt that for most, Zaïde has left its ineradicable footprint in Boston and the string quartet scene as a whole.

Zaïde also left its tracks with violinists Charlotte Juilliard and Pauline Fritsch flanked left and right respectively, leaving cellist Juliette Salmona and violist Sarah Chenaf between  them. Did the Mozart quartet suggest this? Recall that the composer’s Prussian quartets demand more cello participation while at the same time asking the viola to dip below in order to cover the bass lines usually taken up by the cello. But then why keep this arrangement for the Wolf and Beethoven? With Frisch’s violin facing away from us, certainly nothing at all was lost, power, nuance, and otherwise. But neither was experiencing this arrangement any trifling matter, so seemingly simple a reconfiguration it is.

In Hugo Wolf’s Serenade in G for String Quartet (Sérénade italienne), Zaïde could very well have been posing as that entire orchestra which we have heard in many of performances of the work. The quartet was composed in 1887 and later orchestrated in 1892. Zaïde inhabited the serenade with bigness and robustness, color gradations reaching from open, extroverted sunlight to delineated, introverted shadows.

Surrounding the lighter, shorter serenade were Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, K.590 and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131. If Zaïde’s Mozart mined jewels well beneath its surfaces, their Beethoven plotted scenarios well into the human interior. Just how could Zaïde’s jeunes françaises have pulled all of this off? Wouldn’t it be something to go behind the scenes of their concertizing to uncover more about their abundantly evident remarkable powers of persuasion?

The program brochure reads: “Since 2003 New England Conservatory and the ProQuartet-European Center for Chamber Music (ProQuartet-CEMC) have collaborated in a unique exchange program for exceptional young chamber ensembles.” “Exceptional,” “young” are both spot on, yet just begin to tell the emerging story of Quatuor Zaïde. Hopefully the four will retrace their steps in frequent future returns to Boston. Encore!

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.

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