Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Another Hit for Music Mondays

The most recent Music Mondays concert on the upper west side reaffirmed that the cat is out of the bag: the eclectic monthly series isn’t under the radar anymore. In January, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra drew a standing-room crowd; last Monday, the Jasper String Quartet’s performance was pretty much filled to capacity. Reason to make it to the church on time, next time. The Jaspers’ previous New York appearance was playing Georgyi Ligeti at le Poisson Rouge; this time out they wrapped Beethoven and Brahms around two stark, intense segments from Aaron Jay Kernis’ 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning String Quartet No. 2. And despite a fascinating rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet in D, Op. 18, No. 3 and the unselfconsciously warm familiarity of Brahms’ String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2, it was the Kernis that stunned the crowd. The quartet have a long relationship with the composer, and that affinity translated potently.

Kernis’ liner notes offered the surprising news that his piece was inspired, if not quite directly, by J.S. Bach suites. But the only resemblance to Bach was in the architecture, and in places, in the rhythm. Kernis’ acidic, astringent, troubled tonalities, anchored by Rachel Henderson Freivogel’s cello, began atmospherically in the second movement, titled Sarabande Double, and then alternated austere stillness with frenzied, anguished crescendos. Unsurprising, considering that it’s a requiem for one of Kernis’ most avid supporters. At the end, the quartet took it down as quietly as they could and let a long pause linger; the audience waited for more, but the elegy was over.

The rest of the program wasn’t nearly as dark, but it was interesting, and when there were places to have fun, the quartet latched onto those moments. In hindsight, Beethoven’s third published string quartet is actually the first one he wrote, and if it doesn’t foreshadow the tormented glimmer of the late quartets, it’s still cutting-edge for 1800: no mere Haydn ripoff, this one! Violinist J Freivogel’s whirling glissandos over strongly assertive cello and the viola of Sam Quintal lit up the opening Allegro, contrasted by a very serious Andante, a bustling, vivid Allegro and then an offhandedly playful romp through the conversational concluding Presto, violinist Sae Chonabayashi joining in the precise, deadpan interplay. After the white-knuckle, harrowing Kernis piece, was the closing Brahms quartet anticlimactic? Not if the group wanted to send the audience home on a happy note. Henderson Freivogel, who made the most of her many opportunities to shine, grabbed onto the nifty pizzicato of the opening Allegro non troppo; the whole ensemble followed in the same vein with the bright Vivaldiesque Andante moderato, the cozily predictable rondo in the Quasi Minuetto and the ebullient, triumphant finale. To 21st century ears, it’s a frustrating piece: it’s so attractive, yet so predictable, except for the occasional cadenza or suspenseful motif that the composer threw in as if to see if everyone was paying attention. In this case, they were.

Music Mondays’ next concert at the two-congregation church at 93rd St. and Broadway, is April 18 at 7:30 PM with fascinatingly eclectic all-female German recorder quartet QNG (Quartet New Generation), who typically bring a small U-Haul truck’s worth of recorders of various sizes along with a repertoire that spans the centuries.

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April 3, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Loki Ensemble at Music Mondays, NYC 4/26/10

It could have been billed as Schoenberg and His Descendents, a beautifully uneasy, otherworldly upper westside evening of art-songs and some austerely compelling instrumentals that more than did justice to the composer’s legacy. The Loki Ensemble’s mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer has developed not only a great affinity but also a strikingly resonant aptitude for Schoenberg’s paradigm-shifting Book of Hanging Gardens, Op. 18, an otherworldly suite based on a series of heartbroken, imagistic poems by Stefan George. The group played four of those songs: on number two and eleven , pianists Jacob Greenberg and then Wes Matthews wrenched every brooding, moody atonality from the score as Fischer brought a remarkably visceral unease, longing and intensity to the vocals. In the stylized world of classical legit voice, individuality is not an easy quality to channel, but Fischer put her own steely, forcefully indelible stamp on everything she touched. To liven things up further, the group added their own instrumental improvisations, notably tenor saxophonist Noah Kaplan (of marvelously creepy art-song practitioners Dollshot), whose precise yet breathy, baritone-like timbres matched the murk perfectly. Greenberg hinted at an McCoy Tyner bluesiness in his solo on song fourteen, number fifteen dramatically juxtaposing Fischer’s pyrotechnics against Matthews’ plaintive minimalism.

A very recent work for piano trio and vocals (based on an Octavio Paz text), Reinaldo Moya’s La Rima, with the JACK Quartet’s Christopher Otto on violin and Kevin McFarland on cello made a solid segue, strings swooping over a pensive piano rumble, building to a contrast between terse, incisive piano methodically punching against sostenuto atmospherics. A world premiere, William Cooper’s An Den Wassern Zu Babel was an intense and poignant interpretation of Psalm 137 (you may know it from Bach or the Melodians’ By the Rivers of Babylon). Cooper explained how affecting he found the end of the passage, which concludes with “Blessed are those who bash the bones of their children against the rocks,” and while the music, with considerable echoes of Bartok, never reached that level of violence, there was considerable anger and even more frustration. Over the course of seven movements, pianist Liza Stepanova worked the variations of a simple ascending progression lyrically and dynamically, through a sad, angry march, a hypnotically chilling, late Rachmaninovian-style passage and then the methodical, wounded sway of the final movement which ended sudden and cold.

The final piece, Nathan Shields’ Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking set text by Hart Crane and Walt Whitman to severe, sometimes acidic, evocatively wavelike piano played by Ed Neeman, Fischer speaking the final stanzas with a dramatic flair. The counterpoint between vocals and piano was both striking and hypnotic, the unease of the strings adding to the menace (the theme ponders the role of the ocean as both nurturer and destroyer), but as assured and engaged as the performers were, ultimately this was Horse Latitudes: awkward instant, and the first horse of many was jettisoned. What a treat it would be to hear this without the poetry – or with vocalese instead!

The popular, reliably adventurous Music Mondays at Advent Lutheran Church at 93rd and Broadway continues on May 31 with the Brentano Quartet.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment