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Exothermic Reactions Ensue in Quartet Debut

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Daniel Gortler (file photo)

The Catalyst Quartet, an excellent contemporary-focused foursome, made its Maverick Concerts debut on Sunday with adept performances of a wide variety of music, beginning with an arrangement Bach’s Goldberg Variations apparently collaboratively realized by the entire group. It set forth Bach’s music in a reasonable way, clear, well-balanced, though with individual voices sometimes taking on more prominence than possible on the harpsichord.

I must object, on the other hand, to the ensemble’s Listener’s Digest diminishment of this monumental masterpiece, with only nine of the 30 variations and no repeats. The printed notes said the Catalysts took inspiration from Glenn Gould. (They’ve made a CD mixing Bach and Gould’s String Quartet.) But as brilliantly as Gould played the Bach original, he made what I consider the fatal mistake of omitting the repeats, which is why I won’t let either of his recordings into my house. This is music on a monumental scale, should lasts as long as a Mahler Symphony. Also, when you omit repeats, you also omit the possibility of embellished repeats, another necessity in proper Baroque performance. (I’ve always loved Thurston Dart’s statement that a performer of Handel’s time who neglected to embellish his repeats would have been thought “a dull dog indeed.”)

So the Catalyst Quartet’s Goldbergs provided just a hint what Bach intended, but I’d stand in line for tickets to hear the group play it in full.

No doubt some readers of this review enjoy Philip Glass’s music, as Maverick’s Music Director Alexander Platt obviously does. (He has more Glass coming in August.) Then there are those, like me who remain mystified as to why anyone would ever want to hear anything by Glass. I even went to hear Einstein on the Beach many years ago after someone told me I couldn’t fairly say I disliked Glass’s music until I heard it. Well, I did, and the mystery remains. I even avoid going to movies with Glass music because I know it will keep me from enjoying the movie.

Glass’s film music trapped me on this occasion. His String Quartet No. 3 is made up of music he wrote for the film Mishima. All I can hear in this music is uninteresting ideas brainlessly repeated. The audience, on the other hand, responded to the energetic performance with wild cheering.

Catalyst Quartet (Sphinx Organization photo)

The Israeli pianist Daniel Gortler has collaborated at Maverick before. From the way he played three of Brahms’s late Intermezzi, he seems overdue for a full recital. Gortler completely convinced us, with very relaxed, rich- toned, rather rhythmically free traversals. He then joined with the Catalyst Quartet for a super-sexy performance of Franck’s Piano Quintet, one of the greatest examples of musical erotica. I hear the conclusion of the first movement as a graphic musical depiction of an orgasm, and that’s the way they rendered it, as part of a lush and free interpretation with plenty of the fire Franck requested in the Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco finale. Gortler managed to work on a large scale without ever obscuring the strings, marking him as a fine chamber musician. In 90-degree heat, relieved only somewhat by Maverick’s wonderful Big Ass Fans (that’s what they’re really called), Gortler and the Catalyst Quartet really steamed up the joint.

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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