IN: Reviews

Quartet Met “Latin Voices” Mandate


Maverick Concerts ended its’23 season with a gorgeous concert of new, old, and not-so-old masterworks performed by the Cassatt String Quartet which featured two giants of contemporary classical music: the eminent, joyful pianist Ursula Oppens and the award-winding Afro-Cuban-American composer, conductor, educator, and artistic advisor Tania León. Two works by León befit the season’s title (and mandate) “Latin Voices.”

Muneko Otani, Jennifer Leshnower, violins; Rosemary Nelis, viola; Gwen Krosnick, cello

Ethos, for piano and string quartet commissioned by Symphony Space in 2014, is a lovely exercise in three movements, each based on a fragment from a different poem by Susannah Sheffer: “In the cage where the heart paces”, “blaze of lights”, and “Viridian. Ochre. Cobalt Blue.” The all-female Cassatt Quartet played this as true believers, a stance required ever and again of the performers by the sometimes ferocious, sometimes benign, but always ingenious and approachable score. Out of a gentle burst of harmonics and high trills, came the blossoming of solid tonality. The players delivered the bitten-off silences in the third movement with assurance that obviated the need to answer the bedeviling question posed by so much contemporary music: “Why this note? Why not that one?” The Cassatts, it seems, have the answer: “Listen. Just listen. You’ll understand.” And we do. That is the gift of the composer and the performers.

The event had opened with Mozart’s last string quartet, No. 23 in F Major, K. 590, a revelation every time we hear it. Mozart seems to be calling out across the decades to Schubert, laying the ground for the Romantic revolution. The foursome deployed all the swan-song Rococo charm that Mozart conjured up, leaving us feeling a bit sad but still happy to soak it up once again.

The indefatigable Oppens opened the second half with the spiky clave rhythms of Mistica, Leon’s  highly dissonant solo piano piece.

The closer, Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 57, came across unflinchingly with the requisite vast and vertiginous dynamic and emotional changes and the ensemble virtuosity. Oppens’s handling of the fast-moving octave passages in the Scherzo took our breath away as did the entire group in the relentless good cheer of the finale.

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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  1. Such an impassioned performance by the all women Cassatt Quartet plus the indefatigable Ursula Oppens on piano and the delightful Cuban composer Tania Leon who was celebrating her 80th birthday & who introduced her music.I loved listening to the perfectly attuned conversation among the players. Truly a joy!

    Comment by Gail — September 15, 2023 at 8:17 pm

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