Saturday, September 26, 2020

non-concert review

I finally had another pretty fully satisfying online classical concert. This one was supposed to be a joint event by the Jupiter and Jasper String Quartets. (They're connected: two of the Jupiter players are sisters, and their brother is in the Jasper.) The Jupiters would play Beethoven's "Harp" Quartet, the Jaspers two newly commissioned pieces by Lera Auerbach and Joan Tower, two composers I was willing to hear, and then they'd combine for the Mendelssohn Octet, a piece that should always be played when two string quartets get together.

It didn't quite work out that way. The Jupiters, who work at the University of Illinois, were unable to travel to the concert site due to the pandemic, so they mailed in a videorecording of their Beethoven, and the Mendelssohn was played with four local musicians taking their place. But since the concert site was in Syracuse, New York, I was hardly likely to have been there if it were live, so the online version was definitely better than nothing. (Syracuse: curious, because it was also the source of an excellent performance of the stage play Amadeus that I saw online in April. It's also where our nieces live: they seem to have picked a good city.)

The "Harp" Quartet (so named for a generous use of pizzicato) is supposed to be the small-scale and modest one of Beethoven's middle quartets, but the Jupiter played it with great vigor and aggression, making it lively and crisp, the kind of work that helps gain the listener's attention in an online performance.

The Mendelssohn, by contrast, was gentle and relaxed, watering down the drama of the first movement and giving a fast but not feathery scherzo. It was less arresting to listen to, except that the style gave the slow movement an unexpected fullness and depth.

As for the Auerbach and Tower, they were both modernist (as opposed to postmodernist) movements with a coherence and stability that mark recent works in that style more than their pioneering predecessors of a century ago. Auerbach was more apt to explore extremely high registers and percussive playing, while Tower reveled in squeeze-box chords with tangy but not unpleasant harmonies. Not uninteresting to listen to.

One other thing about online concerts: even if an artificial deadline is imposed, it's still usually possible to hear them after the event. You have to buy a ticket to hear it, but you can still do so up through Sunday evening here. (At that page you can also catch an embedded older recording of slightly earlier incarnations of the Jasper [on the left] and Jupiter [on the right] playing a more hefty and vigorous version of Mendelssohn's first movement.)

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