Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Menlo, part 4

First off, both of my other reviews finally got up this afternoon. Here's Wednesday's and here's Sunday's. Knowing I'd have to get the latter in Monday morning if it was to be posted before the weekly snapshot of the site we send to e-mail subscribers on Tuesdays, I wrote most of the review during the concert itself, scribbling sentences on blank spots in the program book as thoughts inspired me. I transcribed them when I got home, rearranged their order, and presto: instant review.

Having been impressed with the Calidore Quartet's Tchaikovsky in my extra concert on Saturday, I came back today for their all-Russian quartet recital. No Tchaikovsky this time, the program reminded me a little of Wednesday's in structure. It featured big quartets by two composers known for their chamber music, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and littler, fragmentary ones by two composers who don't make you think of chamber music, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky.

Rachmaninoff's was the two surviving movements from an unfinished quartet from his student days. Regrettably uninspired, and sounding at least as much like Grieg as like any other Russian, it was saved from soggy romanticism by the same dry intensity that Calidore gave to Tchaikovsky.

The Stravinsky, by contrast, was already as dry as bone. It's 3 tiny fragments he wrote in 1914: the program book says they contain the seeds of his neo-classical work to come, but I don't hear that. They're as primitive as Le sacre or Petruchka, and sound even more like the arid modernism that Stravinsky and others would be composing 40 years later.

Prokofiev's Second Quartet is based on folk music he heard in the Caucasus while hiding out from the German invasion during WW2. The folk music is harsh and angular, good for Prokofiev, but it took the Calidore to make this quartet jaunty and fun instead of clunky and irritating. Good job.

And Shostakovich's Second Quartet, one of those works that keeps surprising me by what a masterpiece it is. Again, passionate and hypnotically intense work.

Two more things about the Calidore:
1) If there's any pre-performance talk, the second violinist gives it. I noted during their master class last week that the first violinist hardly utters a word.
2) I wish more small ensembles would acquire their habit of doing their between-work tuneups while still offstage.

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