The Maverick Concerts series is celebrating its 100th anniversary in numerous ways this summer. One interesting event was the concert on Sunday repeating the exact program of a concert in the first season. I have my doubts that the performances then were in a class with what we heard at this event, featuring the Shanghai Quartet and pianist Ran Dank.
Since Dank was making his Maverick debut, I’d like to spend a moment on him. He is an Israeli, currently studying at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York with Ursula Oppens and Richard Goode. He was recently appointed Director of Piano Studies at the University of Charleston, in a city which currently needs all the help from the arts it can get. It will benefit from Dank’s presence, at least as a pianist, my only opportunity to judge his work. For years I have been bitching about the tonal qualities of the playing of young pianists, many of whom seemed happy to tolerate flinty tone in the pursuit of ever-greater speed and dexterity. Perhaps the tide has turned, with pianists like Jeremy Denk, Benjamin Hochman, and Yuja Wang, who play brilliantly but with beautiful and varied sound. Dank is another one of these, and hearing the lush sound he produced from the piano was a great pleasure. Although he played only as a collaborator in this concert, and had the piano lid open, he was always an assertive presence without ever swamping his colleagues. I hope to hear more from this musician.
The program demonstrated the good taste of Maverick’s founding musicians. It opened with Haydn’s Quartet in D Major, Op. 77, No. 1, as great a piece as Haydn ever wrote. The Shanghai Quartet played with excellent balance. I noticed the singing quality and wide dynamics of the first movement, which became even more soulful in the gorgeous Adagio. The usual excellent Maverick program notes by Miriam Villchur Berg noted that although the third movement is labeled Menuetto, it also says Presto and sounds more like one beat to the measure than three. At the Shanghais’ tempo it sounded almost like a tarantella but the Trio was radically slower, with sharp contrasts and strong accents throughout. The finale is also labeled Presto and was very fast but not crazy fast, with the players finding time to emphasize the humor in the music.
Bruch’s Kol Nidrei gave cellist Nicholas Tzavaras a chance to demonstrate his solo qualities, which were outstanding, and introduced us to Dank’s playing. After intermission, the entire ensemble gave us as fine a performance as I’ve heard of a great personal favorite, Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44. Some musicians I’ve heard recently, notably pianist Vladimir Feltsman, are bringing back 19th century rhythmic style to Schumann’s music without pulling it to pieces, and that’s what we heard in this surprisingly flexible music-making. Along with the freedom of rhythm, the first movement had some pretty extreme contrasts which I enjoyed. The second movement was extremely expressive and moving, with, for once, plenty of viola audible. The Scherzo was indeed Molto vivace, and here I heard the only minor flaw of the afternoon, some passages which weren’t well articulated by first violin and piano, probably due to the tempo. But this is the sort of thing a critic notes only to prove he was awake; the problem didn’t bother me.
Overall, a glorious concert, worthy of Maverick at its best. And next weekend we have three concerts: Simone Dinnerstein playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations on July 3rd, Adam Tendler playing piano music of Cage and Cowell on the 4th, and flutist Paula Robison and guitarist Fred Hand on the 5th.