in: Reviews

July 7, 2014

The Case of the Missing Cellist

by

Calder Quartet (Autumn DeWilde photo)

Calder Quartet (Autumn DeWilde photo)

The Calder Quartet arrived at Maverick Concerts last Sunday without its cellist, but with a distinguished substitute, the violist’s father, a member of the Boston Symphony. The announced program was completely changed, but the audience still got a fine performance with a great Schubert highlight.

There are few things a musician will miss a gig for, but attending the birth of a first child is evidently one of them. Thus it was that the Calder Quartet arrived at Maverick Concerts on Sunday, July 6, without cellist Eric Byers. However, the remaining members managed to recruit a most distinguished substitute: Joel Moerschel, a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (currently in residence at nearby Tanglewood) and the father of Calder violist Jonathan Moerschel.

I am amazed at the way truly fine musicians can produce excellent playing spontaneously. I once attended a dinner at my parents’ house when among the guests were my uncle, violinist Leonard Felberg, and the superb pianist André-Michel Schub. After dinner, Lenny, a former member of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Schub decided to read through a few Mozart Sonatas for their own amusement and the entertainment of the guests. They had never met before, but the playing sounded up to concert level even in ensemble. Sure, string quartets rehearse endlessly. But this concert had the benefit of a few hours of rehearsal at best, and even listening with informed ears I doubt I would have known that one of the players was a last-minute substitute.

I’ll admit that the opening performance of Ravel’s Quartet in F was not my favorite version of that piece. It’s early Ravel and he hadn’t escaped the influence of romanticism yet as thoroughly as he did later. But a dose of astringency helps relate this piece more convincingly to Ravel’s later work than the concept we heard from the Calders, which sounded thoroughly 19th century. Still, the playing was clean and precise, with beautifully blended and balanced chords in the third movement. Moerschel was properly assertive in his unaccustomed role.

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Joel Moerschel (file photo)

Mozart’s Quartet in G, K. 387 was a little beefy for my taste. In the first movement, the first violinist blurred some passages, reminding me that all the players were dealing with unaccustomed circumstances, not just the cellist. The off-beat accents in the second movement started out gratifyingly strong but got milder as the movement progressed. Still, this remained fine playing, especially in the swift and clear finale.

As the concert progressed I found myself listening for the levels of technical difficulty in the music. And after intermission, I realized that Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet in D Minor, D. 810, is nowhere near as difficult as the Beethoven Op. 131 it replaced. But it’s not “easy” music, making the Calders’ performance remarkable. The ensemble produced a leaner, more propulsive sound than in the first two works, and it suited the music extremely well. There was plenty of drama throughout. The variations were very well balanced and paced, unsentimental and affecting. The finale was swift, precise, and so intense it was almost frightening. Thanks, Mr. Moerschel. I think you did your son proud.

Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, 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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