Maverick Concerts is not exactly stingy in its programming. But the past weekend was unusually generous, with a 3 hour and 20 minute concert on Saturday, and a Sunday afternoon program lasting 2 hours and 40 minutes.
The Jupiter String Quartet drew a large audience to the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock. The average size of the audience tends to increase as the end of the season approaches, with people trying to use up the remainder of their ticket books. But since this group has played at Maverick before, as has pianist Ilya Yakushev, they might have developed followings which converged on this occasion.
The concert began with Mozart’s Quartet in D, K. 575, the first of the three “Prussian” Quartets which concluded Mozart’s string quartet output. The Jupiters took the first movement at a very sensible Allegretto tempo as Mozart asked, included the first movement exposition repeat, and gave us very clean playing with a classically modest attitude but still quite expressive. I found the Menuetto a bit too mild-mannered, but otherwise the playing was excellent.
Maverick has been attempting to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth this summer, a difficult task for a chamber music festival. Oddly enough, his popular Violin Sonata wasn’t included in the season. The Jupiters and Yakushev brought us a real novelty: Strauss Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 13, written when the composer was 20. I doubt I’ve ever heard this piece before. It’s quite derivative, with young Strauss’s influences very obvious: Dvořák, here, Mendelssohn there, and a pretty heavy dose of Brahms overall. The piece is also overlong (37 minutes). But it’s not juvenilia, and in this adept and well-coordinated performance it managed to hold my interest pretty well through most of its length. I won’t be in a hurry to hear it again, though, especially not the episodic finale.
I guess Busoni belongs to Strauss’s era, which may have given Yakushev an excuse to play Busoni’s famous transcription of the Bach Chaconne. For me, this piece is something of a monstrosity, exaggerating Bach’s dramatic music to the point of melodrama. If you really want to play the Bach Chaconne on the piano I’d suggest sticking with Brahms’s respectful and ingenious version for piano left hand. Yakushev played it with at least some restraint and did his best to make sense of it, although there were a few slightly garbled passages. I would have preferred some of Busoni’s original piano music.
By now the concert had been going for over two hours, and I noticed some of the audience bailing out before the last piece started. Their loss! it was the Brahms Piano Quintet, a certified masterpiece. I felt this performance betrayed its get-together-for-a-summer-festival-performance nature just a bit, and the expression in the second movement Andante struck me as too mild. Still, these were very fine musicians at work in a performance full of subtleties and moments of genuine grandeur