The Lydian Quartet produces more than consciously crafted sound, more than subtle homogeneity, more than sensitive interpretation. The Lydian voice possesses an essence that can only be cultivated by the most intense, genuine, and intimate personal interaction over the course of many years. The Lydians really care about the music, about the audience. The Lydians have something to say and the capacity to say it with heart. It is like the voice of a mother, unquestionably sincere and profoundly fluent.
Though this group can deliver in any venue, no matter the repertoire, its voice seems so splendidly concentrated in its residency at Slosberg Recital Hall at Brandeis University. Saturday evening the venue was even enhanced by the repertoire, if that is possible: Schumann’s String Quartet in A Major, Op.41 No.3, Kurtág’s Officium Breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánsky, and Brahms’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op.51, No.2. Certainly, one would expect this foursome to command the 19th-century pieces with prowess, but the Kurtág most poignantly exposed the Lydian voice this weekend.
Kurtág’s string quartet comprises 15 brief, spacious, and delicate movements — typical qualities for this composer. Musicians must take supreme care to handle each movement’s subtle contours. Kurtág’s music accesses musical, verbal, and generally human lexicons, resulting in strings of related gestures or single gestures in dramatically framed isolation: each blossoming or withering in perfectly comprehensible utterances, celebrating in their succession a sublime impermanence. Successful performers must understand the meaning of each and the composite rhetoric of their arrangement. Even private analysis of the score makes clear the absolute fluency with which these compositions communicate: responsive performers must rise to the task of matching this fluency, must study not only the score, but also the systems of expression on which it is based. This task will ultimately require a seamless combination of technical facility and intelligence.
The Lydian’s rose to the challenge, and in a perfect synthesis of circumstance, they engaged their collective voice to its optimal capacity. Although the group frequently fills programs mainly with older repertoire, it seems that its prime outlet of expression could well be in more contemporary scores. My only slight discomfort regards the order of the concert. It was not surprising to find the typical “new music sandwich” strategy, but it seemed particularly perturbing in this instance. Nestling the Kurtág between the two canonic selections seemed like an apologetic gesture that disregarded the significance of the piece itself, its rhetoric, its final sentiment. One wants to hear only silence after this piece. It is profound because of its ironic finality; it is paradigmatically a Postmodern last word. This concert arrangement also diminished the Brahms for which, I was emotionally callous and unreceptive. This being said, the Lydians seemed quite capable of performing with sincerity to the end of the show.
It should be mentioned that Gabriela Diaz was substituting for Andrea Segar [first violin of the Lydians] on for this performance. While the fidelity to standards of any quartet is always challenged by such circumstances, I perceived no deficit or compromise. Diaz was not only successful in achieving cohesion, but also managed to turbo charge the quartet’s general energy. This seemed most apparent during the Schumann: Contrary to my expectations, I found this traditional selection quite stimulating, thanks to Diaz’s contagious exuberance and the others’ receptivity to her. Further, it seemed clear that her specialized contributions proved particularly effective during Kurtág.
The Lyds have been playing shows in the Boston area and beyond for an impressive number of years, but it’s always a special night when they play at home.
Eric Hollander is a PhD candidate in Musicology at Brandeis University. His research is focused on musical realizations of poetic texts and oral traditions.
Brandeis University will be hosting several exciting performances in the coming weeks. The most immediate highlight is a visiting presentation from Blue Heron on Wednesday evening [10/30] at 8PM with a pre-concert talk at 7:00. This performance is part of a two-day medieval conference that will be happening in the university’s music department. Blue Heron is a highly renowned vocal ensemble, with a remarkable degree of specialization in medieval repertoire. Wednesday night’s concert will be free and open to the public: an opportunity not to be missed.