The Shanghai Quartet always attracts a large audience to the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, NY, and the concert yesterday afternoon was no exception. It was one of three Maverick Sunday concerts this season that have half-hour Prelude Concerts at 3 p.m., and for which nearly all of the eventual audience arrived in time. These concerts, which give the audience another half hour to mill around, must be good for the refreshment stand’s business. They’ve even added sandwiches for sale!
Pianist Pedja Muzijevic had been playing at Maverick as soloist and in collaboration for several years. His contribution to the Prelude Concert was an imposing work, Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. This piece is a real challenge for the pianist because, played without enough concentration, it tends to fall apart into segments. Muzijevic gave a gratifying performance; his tonal production was very lush, and although he played with appropriately romantic flexibility, his sense of continuity held the piece together convincingly. He introduced some rhythmic relaxation into the fugue, which I suppose is appropriate. It is a fugue, but it’s also romantic music. He never let the momentum of this section collapse.
When I first heard the Shanghai Quartet I was reminded of my early experiences with the Tokyo Quartet; the ensemble work was magnificent, but I found them interpretively bland. Like the Tokyo Quartet, which will visit Maverick as part of its farewell tour later this summer, the Shanghai Quartet has gained tremendously in interpretive range. Its playing of Mozart’s Quartet in B Flat, K. 458, the “Hunt,” had a glossy finish but was still spirited, and the instruments were extremely well balanced. (No reticent viola here!) The sweet Moderato might have been more dance-like in style, but the Adagio’s poised and beautifully detailed reading was so intense as to be almost Beethovenian. And the jaunty final Allegro assai was just right.
Maverick’s programs this summer are celebrating anniversaries of Debussy and Ravel. The Shanghai Quartet brought Ravel’s Quartet in F and gave it a memorable reading. The whole style of articulation became smoother than in the Mozart. Rhythm was somewhat flexible (this music, after all, dates from 1902, the tail end of the romantic period) but never lost momentum. The playing of the pizzicato sections in the second movement was truly amazing. The third movement sounded very affecting. The opening of the last movement was surprisingly rough, almost angry-sounding, but it worked very well. A thoroughly satisfying performance!
I gather that the collaboration with Muzijevic in Schumann’s great Piano Quintet in E Flat, Op. 44, was arranged for this concert only, but you would never have guessed that just from hearing the performance. There was a lot of risk-taking in the first movement, which was very rhythmically flexible. Since I have been spending a lot of time recently listening to recordings of the 19th-century pianist Vladimir de Pachmann, I am not about to complain about flexibility in romantic music. But I wasn’t always convinced that the ritards at the ends of phrases were organic. Sometimes they sounded like an idea of what ought to be done rather than the result of genuine impulse. Still, it’s the right idea. The second-movement march was even more flexible, but it worked well. I liked the strong viola in this movement. The scherzo was spirited and quite fast but not rushed. Overall, this was a highly successful performance of a piece I’ve heard a hundred times but which never gets old.
Distractions by a dog some fool had left in a car, and by a baby someone had outside, were only momentary. But Maverick has had problems with distractions in the past and should really do something to encourage audience members from bringing inappropriate companions. The atmosphere at Maverick is deliberately casual, but there have to be some limits!