Wednesday, October 10, 2012

concert review: Ives Quartet

What I like most about the Ives Quartet - besides the fact that they're good if somewhat offbeat performers, they're nearby and play frequently, and their concerts never come close to selling out (which is a shame for them, but means you can always get tickets) - is that they almost invariably include something unusual or new in their otherwise conventional program repertoire. Of the older composers whom I already knew about but had not been expecting to hear live, I particularly cherish getting to hear string quartets by Dane Rudhyar (even though I didn't much like the music) and Leo Ornstein (which I liked very much) at Ives concerts.

So I had it on my calendar as a red-letter day when the Ives was scheduled to play Henry Cowell's Fourth, a quartet I'd heard before and love. And after I selected it for an SFCV survey as one of the concerts to watch out for this fall, I got assigned to review it.

It was an offbeat performance of an offbeat work, but I should expect nothing less of the Ives. The degree to which they made it sound like Cowell's earlier work startled me. Meanwhile, expressionist intensity all over Smetana's From My Life was satisfying in itself, but dampened the emotional contrasts that the composer intended. And the Haydn, which could have flourished under a dose of the same strong medicine, was restrained. Had the players switched the styles around, I might have been happier, but they'll do it as they see fit. The main problem, as I noted in the review, was that they seemed a little uncomfortable with what Haydn and Cowell asked them to do. You need to pick music you have faith in.

Still, it was a good concert, and I'd recommend its further performances in Palo Alto and Berkeley (the latter, previously unknown to me, is mentioned in comments). Not in Palo Alto or Berkeley, but the Vietnamese place right around the corner from le petit Trianon turned out to be quite tasty, and with a friendly explanatory waitperson; thanks to K. for leading us there. I had a dry noodle bowl, like pho without the broth; the brothlessness' superiority at not making a mess turned out to be limited. It was called bun,* though a glance at the Vietnamese cuisine article on Wikipedia suggests that the nomenclature is a lot more complicated than that. Querying elsewhere on other occasions will definitely still be necessary.

*Not to be confused with buns (Chinese bao), which in Vietnamese are apparently called banh. I think.

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