Wednesday, August 28, 2019

BISQC, day 3

At the previous BISQC, Wednesday was another marathon day, with each of the ten competing quartets playing one work each from the Romantic (basically 19C) repertoire. Then Thursday was an entire day off to recover.

This time they're doing it slightly differently, spreading both the Romantic round and the day off over two days. Today had the morning off, and it was also the day when we weren't provided lunch by the cafeteria, so I walked down the hill into the town of Banff for lunch, and also visited the farmer's market which was today, where I got a basket of blackberries and some unusual local varietal apples. Now I have to figure out when to eat them, for - that one excision aside - they're feeding us well here.

Afternoon and evening were two concerts of the Romantic round, totaling 7 of the 10 quartets; the other 3 will be tomorrow morning. This evening's concert was the first time the hall was close to full; I expect the increase in day trippers to continue.

The highlight of the day was undoubtably the Marmen Quartet in Mendelssohn's Op. 80, his last and darkest-toned quartet. It totally overshadowed the Quatuor Elmire in the same work earlier the same day, unfortunately (for Elmire at least). Where Marmen gave a dramatic performance, Elmire was tragic, and it didn't come off as well. Marmen was brilliantly driving, and intense with great clarity. Next to that, Elmire sounded soggy. They did have one interesting trick, setting some dissonant trills in the finale off like metallic bells. Marmen didn't do anything like that. They didn't have to.

Further fine Mendelssohn came from the Ruisi Quartet in Op. 13. This was full of a variety of moods. By the time, at the end of this long quartet, it returns to its beginning, you felt like you'd been on a real journey. My only small creebs have to do with some details of relative strength of voicing, and questions of formality. The intermezzo could perhaps have been less staid and more insouciant, and the finale more galumphing. But it was good.

The other best performance was by the Viano Quartet in the Debussy quartet. It was vivid and strong, also impassioned, with rich harmonies but not a trace of impressionist wetness. It didn't entirely overshadow the Quatuor Agate in the same work. Being French, they went for the riper harmonic style, but they didn't overindulge. Their first movement and scherzo were also energetic and incisive, while the Andantino and finale were far slower and more introverted.

The Omer Quartet played a Brahms Op. 67 that was bright, cheerful, lively, and energetic, none of them words usually associated with Brahms, and indeed this performance did not sound like Brahms in the slightest. I would never have guessed it was him. Since this is the same ensemble that, at the previous BISQC 3 years ago, played a Debussy quartet that did not sound remotely like Debussy, I sense a pattern.

That leaves the Vera Quartet in Ravel's quartet, and for a group whose Bartok I loved, they fell down on the job here. It was adequately played, but rather bland, and considering the opportunities for exotic spicing in this most potentially protean of all the standard repertoire quartets, to neglect all of those opportunities is a damned shame.

After the afternoon concert, many of us rushed over to a nearby recital hall for a master class given by renowned cellist Joel Krosnick, tutoring 3 student ensembles of varying experience in pieces by Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. At one point, helping a second violinist with a tough passage, he joked, "You know what second violinists do for a living: they repeat first violinists, but in a difficult register."

Normally the audience doesn't interact directly much with the contestants or staff, who are awfully busy, but chance allowed me to sit at dinner tonight with one of the judges, violinist Martin Beaver. We didn't discuss the contestants, of course, but we did speak more generally on judging; compared concert halls we both knew, him as a performer and me in the audience, and the differences in those perspectives; the plague of noise on the ears; and much else. I told my restaurant background music story to the amusement of the entire table. (What? I haven't told it to you? Later, then.)

Tomorrow, the rest of the Romantic round, and - a BISQC alumni concert.

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