Thursday, July 13, 2017

Brentano String Quartet. July 9, 2017.

Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University.  General Admission (Balcony Right Rear, free).

Madrigal set (arr. Steinberg for string quartet) by Gesualdo (1566-1613).
The Fifth Book by Hartke (b. 1952).
Quartet No. 7, op 59, no. 1, “Razumovsky” by Beethoven (1770-1827).

Mark Steinberg, violin; Serena Canin, violin; Misha Amory, viola; Nina Lee, cello.

This concert was part of the Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts series.  The concert was also billed as the PUSCC 50th season celebration concert.  Perhaps for this reason the auditorium was filled; a friend couldn’t get a ticket because the concert was sold out – even though isolated empty seats were around.  The quartet began its association with Princeton as far back as 1999, and has progressed from a relatively unknown ensemble to a well-established group which also mentors other quartets.

Each piece on today’s program is from a different century.  One could argue the piece by Carlo Gesualdo had 21st century elements in it as it was arranged from the 16th century piece by Steinberg.  The set consists of three movements, it is not clear from either the Program or the introduction by Scott Burnham how they were chosen from the many Gesualdo had written.  Without the words associated with the specific madrigals I couldn’t quite tell what the quartet was trying to say.  The tunes and harmonies were pleasant enough to listen to, though.

As to the piece by Stephen Hartke, the Program contains the sentence “Commissioned by the Brentano Quartet for their Fragments Project in celebration of their 20th Anniversary.  The work reflects on the first movement of an unfinished quartet by Shostakovich.”  Burnham’s commentary didn’t talk about the Shostakovich linkage at all, he rather referred to the piece as a quartet trying to sound like a madrigal (as opposed to madrigal made to sound like a quartet for the earlier piece.)  Interesting observations, but my ears (and mind) couldn’t get that characteristic, in no small due to my lack of knowledge of madrigals.  I often ask the question of contemporary music: will I remember it after a while?  I am writing this 4 days after hearing it, and I have no recall of what it sounded like.

[Note added 7/17/2017.  I noticed I did write some notes about this piece.  The five movements denote respecitively winter, spring, summer, fall, and winter again, with the third movement as the central one.  I did remember thinking all the seasons showed quite a bit of calmness.]

Perhaps due to the first two pieces in the program, I really appreciated the Beethoven quartet.  It was rather long at about 40 minutes, and consisted of Allegro; Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando; Adagio molto e mesto; and Theme russe, Allegro.  I had looked over the score while listening to a YouTube recording, so was somewhat prepared to have a good listening session, and I did.

Brentano Quartet.

This was the third time we saw the quartet, with the first being in 2005, 12 years ago.  The players looked as young as they did then, and I thought they improved quite a bit over the years (fewer intonation problems, good balance, etc.)  And PUSCC has come a long way also.  The Program is upgraded from a two-sided sheet to a high quality pamphlet.  Honestly the content was as minimal as before, so I hope they are making a lot of money from advertisements.

This is the second year they have gone to electronic tickets, making it easy for someone who might go to get a ticket.  The downside was our friend couldn’t get tickets for this concert, and I couldn’t get them for the next concert.  I wonder if they have developed a robust “overbooking” algorithm to account for the no-shows yet.

Packed Richardson Auditorium.

The concert was at 3 pm in the afternoon, and Princeton was busy on a Sunday afternoon.  We had to park in the municipal lot.

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