in: Reviews

February 6, 2012

More Comfort, Better Space for Boston Cello Quartet

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The Needham Concert Society presented the Boston Cello Quartet in concert yesterday at 3pm in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Needham. The intimate space, with remarkably good acoustics, was an ideal venue for the group.

Arriving for the Needham concert, I studied the program and was surprised to learn that it was the same program I reviewed last summer, when the Boston Cello Quartet performed at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, on July 29 (“Smörgåsbord of Celli Pyrotechnics,” July 30). I am happy to report that I stand by my earlier review, and with the editor’s permission this review focuses on Boston Cello Quartet over time.

The order of pieces on the program has been re-arranged, so the concert began with Pärt, Fratres. This work exists in multiple instrumentations, dating from 1977 to around 1992, and exemplifies Pärt’s “tintinnabula” style of composition – minimalist works built around a tonic triad and diatonic stepwise motion, reflecting Pärt’s long engagement with Gregorian chant. The union of four celli heightens the mysticism embedded in this music, increasing the aural play of similarity within the minimally changing soundscape. It is also a wonderful beginning for a concert. I wish the Boston Cello Quartet had performed this work without vibrato, which I understand to be Pärt’s preferred performance practice. This would require absolute precision of intonation and a heightened, almost mechanical, level of coherence among the ensemble. Such simplicity making more complex the piece as a whole does better serve this gorgeous music.

I found both the J. S. Bach, Toccata and Fugue in d, BWV 565, and the four movements from the Mussorgsky,  Pictures at an Exhibition — namely, Promenade, Tuileries, Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells, & The Great Gate of Kiev — more effective than in July. The smaller and more intimate space in Needham enabled four celli to produce a richness and volume of sound more closely approaching that of a pipe organ or full orchestra. It was that large sound I missed when I heard these works in Ozawa Hall. The hall really is a crucial determinant in a concert, and here it worked to their advantage.

While the program was familiar, I am pleased to record that the Boston Cello Quartet is manifestly enjoying the music and is more comfortable with the arrangements. Each cellist seems to play to his comforts or strengths: Mihail Jojatu excels in absolutely even tone and regularity in fast passagework (as in the Flight of the Bumblebee), Blaise Déjardin demonstrates smooth bow changes and consistency of a pedal drone, Adam Esbensen a mastery of stopped harmonics (both in Pärt, Fratres), and Alexandre Lecarme showcases a rich legato playing (Bach, Sciortino). Shifting roles as they rotate parts throughout the concert allows each player to shine; I think it also increases their own ease, comfort, and joy in performing. They are establishing a group dynamic and an identity as a quartet, becoming a tighter and more cohesive ensemble and furthering their musicmaking. I look forward to many years of concerts to come.

Cashman Kerr Prince is trained in Classics and Comparative Literature and is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

1 Comment

  1. I found your observation interesting, of the importance of matching the concert space with the music and musicianship.

    Comment by Alan Fisch, MD — February 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

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