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Maverick Ventures South of the Border


Maverick Concerts 108th season got under way on Sunday with an appearance by Cuarteto Latinoamericano. This Mexican ensemble first performed at the Maverick 22 years ago and was welcomed upon its return with an enthusiastic introduction by Maverick’s music director, Alexander Platt. The foursome plays with the sure-handed familiarity of long association: The two violinists and the cellist are brothers, and all four players have been together since the founding in 1982.

During its 40-plus years, the Cuarteto Latinoamericano has completely traversed the standard quartet repertoire, while also advocating effectively for new and old Latin American examples. The group has premiered more than 100 works and taken the 2012 and 2016 Latin Grammys for Best Classical Recordings.

In Mozart’s familiar Quartet No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 458, “The Hunt,” the group executed all four movements with vigor, exactitude, and matter-of-fact Classical delight. First violinist,Saúl Bitrán led throughout with the assurance of long acquaintance. The minuet (which Mozart moved to second place from third in the lineup of movements) was full of nimble graciousness and jollity, all turning to ineffable sweetness at the trio, with a seamless transition back to the conviviality of the Minuet, providing just what we want from a minuet and trio. The majestically sad Adagio drew us in with its tone of gallantry and regret.

They programmed the balance of the afternoon to the theme of Maverick’s 2023 season, “Latin Voices.” Two relatively short works wrapped up the first half nicely. First, the ensemble turned to Mexican composer Carlos Chavez’s String Quartet No. 1, a 1921 work from the composer’s 21st year. The Cuarteto obliged with heartfelt cordiality throughout the four short movements, preparing us for the freewheeling energy of Chavez’s student Silvestre Revueltas. He titled this single-movement Fourth String Quartet (1931) Musica de feria, Music for a Fair — think of a street fair with noisy crowds, dancing, a bit of chaos, a lot of festivity. Across the three or four sections, sudden changes of tempo, color, and texture flashed by with panache and precision.

Heitor Villa-Lobos titled the seventh of the 17 string quartets Concertante on account of the virtuosity required of all four instruments in all four movements. The Cuarteto Latinoamericano interpreted work with seemingly effortless ardor, navigating with impassioned focus its far-from-atonal chromaticism, its rich, commodious density, and its bountiful whimsical gestures. In particular, a little fughetto passage, which returned several times, made a quick journey down from the top, set up by Saul Bitrán with a brisk, tiny communication taken swiftly by each of the players, then up from the bottom, kicked off by the cellist, Álvaro Bitrán. “Pay attention! This is really fun!” they seemed to say. And we did! Several of the solo passages ended with strokes of the bow across open strings, Villa-Lobos drawing from each instrument the resonant stress of such a grand gesture.

Maverick resonated clear and warm, supporting the handsome sonorities offered by these players. A surprise summer shower, always a doubtful treat at the Maverick, ended just in time for the intermission and again at the close. The Cuarteto declined to play an encore.

Mary Fairchild lives in Rosendale, New York, after a long career as a host at WQXR, WNYC, WMHT (Schenectady), and WPLN (Nashville). She has for some 20 years been writing program notes for Vladimir Feltsman’s PianoSummer at New Paltz. Before being called by Kalliope, the Muse of Eloquence and of Writing About Music, she worked as a financial editor and manager of investor relations in Wall Street.

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