16 May 2015
I found myself at the Conservatory again recently to hear two more quartets (Mozart's 'Dissonance' and Beethoven's Opus 18 #4), and Beethoven's 'Archduke' piano trio, Opus 97. I confess that, to my 21st century ears, the intro to the first movement of the Mozart was hard to hear as shocking dissonance or atonality (the way it was apparently heard in the 18th century, according to one of the players, who introduced the piece). But the Mozart was good preparation for the Opus 18 quartet, about which the first violin said, "Beethoven is in the wrong clothes in this piece --- he's in Mozart's clothes, and he's trying to get out!" And Beethoven got all the way out in the trio, of course. Since the pianist was playing a modern concert grand, I thought that the lid should have been down --- the piano overwhelmed the strings from time to time, which a fortepiano would not have done. But I was swept along in any case, by this wonderful piece.
Recently I took myself to the Conservatory to hear string quartets by Bartok (#3), Britten (#2), and Schubert (Death and the Maiden). The Bartok was a tricky little number, contrapuntal and fragmentary. An acquaintance remarked that Britten included every technical possibility he could think of. The piece was endlessly interesting and unpredictable. I was awed by the violist in the Britten, who was clearly in love with the music, and his instrument; he was totally unselfconscious in his identification with what he was doing. I recalled someone I knew years ago in New York, a viola player, who, it was alleged (I never heard her do this myself), at concerts would shout "Forte! Forte! Forte viola!!" At the same time, the cellist in the Britten played with cool detachment, almost bemused, except in a solo passage, when her expression became one of open-faced wonder. The players carried off the Schubert with verve and conviction. All in all, a demanding and engaging evening.