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Burnished Eloquence


The Escher Quartet, in its Sunday concert at the Maverick, brought three pieces from the very peak of the string quartet repertoire: Mozart’s B-flat Major Quartet, K. 589; Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 in C Major; and Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden.” The Eschers have returned to the Maverick many times since the group’s founding in 2005. Sunday found them at the top of their game, as Maverick audiences have come to expect. “Passionate elegance” may seem like an oxymoron, but it describes with fair exactitude the Escher’s performance in the sweltering afternoon. Its warm, rich sound, its seamless, burnished eloquence, guided us unfalteringly from the sweetly refined opening of the Mozart, through the virtuosic dissonances of the Bartók, all the way to the fierce ineluctability of the Schubert quartet, which begins, continues, and ends with darkness and death.

Escher takes inspiration for its name from the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher and the mathematical interplay of individual components, which work together in a “golden braid,” as Douglas Hofstadter, in his seminal work Gödel, Escher, Bach, observed, to create and inform a symmetrical structure. Beyond the concert hall, the Escher Quartet has created the nonprofit ESQYRE (Escher String Quartet Youth Residency Education), a classical music organization providing a comprehensive educational program through music performance and instruction for people of all ages.

Maverick’s Music Director Alexander Platt took note of the Escher’s debut performance at the Maverick, its technical command and polish, and how the ensemble has grown in stature and broadened its scope over the intervening 20 years. On Sunday, the Escher’s playing was flawless—brilliant and sonorous, with evocative shadings and turns of phrase—the cello in its featured role as the slow movement the Mozart opens, the Bartók’s rhythmical and formal complexities, the ferocious unisons and intricate part writing of the Schubert. Playing in such an ensemble as a string quartet requires not only technical proficiency, but also a deep commitment to ’vigorous group dynamism.

Darkness and death covered the palette the entire concert. Mozart’s 22nd string quartet, one of the six “Prussian” quartets, is a late work—if anything in so short a life as Mozart’s can be called “late”—composed in the (vain) hope of securing for the composer a place as a court musician for the king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II.

Bartók’s fourth of his six string quartets then prepared the way, with its rhythmic sforzandi, for Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden,” much of which is built on similar forceful accents.

Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” was not published until three years after the composer’s death. The Eschers took it on with appropriated fierceness and, where called for, winsomeness, such as at the very opening, where the first violinist dispatched each of the triplet upbeats with a slightly different articulation. And we noted subtle flexibilities in the tempi throughout the Schubert.

Adam Barnett-Hart, Brendan Speltz, violins; Pierre Lapointe, viola; and Brook Speltz, cello shared their ample and welcome charms once more.

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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