Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Dragon Quartet Tackle a Harrowing, Transgressive Masterpiece and Other Russian Works

Today it’s time to salute transgression, and freedom fighters, and one of the most harrowing pieces of music ever written.

Is it transgressive for a Chinese string quartet to play play popular and less popular but underated Russian repertoire? That probably depends on who you ask, and where you ask that question.

The Dragon Quartet – violinists Ning Feng and Wang Xiaomao, violist Zheng Wenxiao and cellist Qin Liwei – released their second album in the spring of last year. It’s streaming at Spotify; the centerpiece is Shostakovich’s chillingly immortal String Quartet No. 8. Having outlived Stalin, who had murdered so many of his friends, the composer wrote this piece in less than a week, fearing that he might not live to finish it since the tyrant’s successor, Krushchev, had gone on the warpath against artists again. If you know classical music, you undoubtedly know this one, where the composer inserts his initials thousands of times into the score (in German). If you don’t, you are in for a treat.

The slow, sheer despondency of the first movement is an especially severe contrast with the haggard chase scene (and sarcastic Wagner quotes) in the second. The dynamics of the marionettish dance of death in the third enhance the relentlessly sinister quality, particularly its ghostly swirls.

The fourth movement is where the gestapo knock on the door, one of the most iconic sequences in all of classical music. The quartet really dig into the lushness and desperation that follows: Ning’s muted lines as hope runs out pack a wallop, quietly, as does the resonance of the conclusion and Qin’s stark, solemn cello.

Mieczyslaw (Moishe) Weinberg was for several years Shostakovich’s neighbor and drinking buddy, and a vastly underrated, wildly prolific composer. He’d escaped the Holocaust only to be jailed by Stalin: although Shostakovich advocated for him, it was Stalin’s death that saved his life. Here the group play his String Quartet No. 2, which he wrote in 1945. It makes a good segue.

Ning soars uneasily over moody, sometimes insistent lows, with the group supplying vividly aching low/high contrasts as the piece gets underway. They give the second movement a fin-de-siecle, Debussy-esque wistfulness but also a marching cynicism and then flurry vigorously yet very warily through the third. The melodies hypnotically circling over the ghostly backdrop of the fourth movement are another higlight of the album. The group find a melancholy song without words and then get their hands dirty with the bracing round-robin counterpoint of the concluding movement.

Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 is an attractive piece of music, played expertly and thoughtfully, but it’s not going to blow you away like Shostakovich. It’s a love song to Borodin’s wife that ends as the happy couple go on a brisk stroll together. Before that there’s clever, Haydn-influenced counterpoint and shadowing, old world pensiveness, some stately waltzing, balletesque grace, and hummingbird-like speed from Feng when the conclusion calls for it.

May 3, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imaginative, Energetic Jazz and Classical Mashups From Brother Duo Nicki and Patrick Adams

On their new duo album Lynx – streaming at Sunnyside Records – brothers Nicki and Patrick Adams come across as a classical/jazz mashup. Trumpeter Patrick typically carries an unhurried, lyrical melody line while pianist Nicki drives the songs forward with an often turbulent aggression and an erudite interweave of classical riffs. Jazz musicians have been having all kinds of fun with this kind of cross-pollination for decades; this one is packed with clever, unexpected connections and purposeful playing.

They open with Joe Henderson’s Shade of Jade, contrasting lively, upbeat trumpet with gritty, driving piano that slowly and subtly introduces a couple of Bartok themes until the Bulgarian influence is front and center…and then the duo bring it back.

Likewise, they reinvent Monk’s Pannonica by mashing it up with the Khachaturian Toccata and the Gigue from Bach’s Partita in Bb Major, trumpet soaring calmly over disjointed aggression from the piano which calms, and then returns with a leap.

Nicki gives John Coltrane’s 26-2 a coyly motoring Bach undercurrent as his brother chooses his spots. The duo’s brooding reinvention of Nick Drake’s Things Behind the Sun – or wait, isn’t that Al Stewart’s Life and Life Only? – is a quiet stunner.

These two are without a doubt the only ones to tackle Wayne Shorter’s E.S.P. while blending in bits and pieces of Gershwin and the Quartet For the End of Time – that’s Patrick sneaking in the Messiaen here.

The Gershwin influence lingers elegantly in the bouncily strolling Cool Blues, an original. They follow with a lively, Art Tatum-inspired take of Herbie Hancock’s Actual Proof and close by interpolating Debussy, Bartok and Satie with ragtime flair into the ballad I Wish I Knew. If outside-the-box entertainment is your thing, whether you’re a listener or a player, give this a spin.

May 3, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment