Maverick Concerts’ long tradition and strong management assure a high level of quality. So I’m not about to call the Escher Quartet, which played on Sunday, “the best” of anything. But even in a series of outstanding string quartet concerts, this one stood out somewhat.
The program began by gratifying me with Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 50, No. 6, known as “The Frog” for silly reasons. (No, those repeated notes don’t really sound like a frog.) There is never enough Haydn in my life, so just selecting an excellent Haydn Quartet which isn’t one of the very last ones is enough to please me greatly. (Nothing wrong with those, but I want to hear all of them, at least from Op. 9 on.) This performance, with its finely judged balance and dynamics, was very pleasing. The execution was lovely and captured the humor of the Menuetto and the controlled frenzy of the Finale. And as I eventually discovered, the Eschers produced a noticeably different sound for each work on the program while remaining recognizably itself.
I’m old enough to remember when Bartók’s music was still considered esoteric and challenging. Neither of these descriptions applied to the Eschers’ interpretation of the Quartet No. 1, Op. 7, the composer’s first masterpiece. The opening slow movement was so expressive that any barriers to its appreciation were completely removed. The players’ confidence in the music and their understanding of it was palpable, as was their comfort with the changing moods of the finale. The audience greeted this performance, which ended the first “half,” with an uproar of enthusiasm.
Years ago I wrote program notes on Schubert’s last quartets but never discovered the information, contained in Miriam Villchur Berg’s program notes, that the last three were intended to be published as a set until the publisher rejected the second and third. (Maverick is presenting all three this summer.) That’s why the “Rosamunde” Quartet (in A Minor, D 804) was issued as Op. 29, No. 1. The Eschers didn’t try to apply the level of drama to this music that would be appropriate to “Death and the Maiden.” Instead, the ensemble adopted a mellow approach, more wistful than dramatic. I did notice the emphases on some motifs that connect the movements, something that usually escapes me. The lyrical quality and rewarding precision satisfied greatly; the final Allegro moderato was rendered so modestly that it sounded almost like more Haydn. This ensemble wasn’t out to wow us; it just wanted to make music.