Lucid Culture


Thrills and Chills: the Calder Quartet Play Bartok at the Met

The musicians of the Calder Quartet – violinists Benjamin Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook, violist Jonathan Moerschel and cellist Eric Byers – first joined forces to play the Bartok Fourth. Instant cred, or what? That quartet is emotionally harrowing, cruelly difficult, one of the most iconic in the entire string quartet canon, and the ensemble treated the crowd at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to a chilling, intense performance of it Friday night. The Calder Quartet are midway through their survey of the entire Bartok quartet cycle here; their next performance will be at the museum on Nov 22 at 7 PM, featuring Quartets Nos. 2 and 6 plus a selection of Iva Bittova works on which they’ll be joined by the edgy Czech violinst/composer herself.

The Quartet opened this concert with Quartet No. 3. It’s the shortest of Bartok’s quartets and maybe the most succinct, the group following its uneasy, moody atmospherics up to a lively danse macabre. In their program notes, they’d taken care to mention that both quartets on the bill reflect a war-torn early 20th century European milieu whose angst permeates them The group negotiated the composer’s thickets of glissandos, diabolical leaps and many dichotomies – easy, swinging rhythm versus harsh tonalities, alternately calm and jarring counterpoint and atmospheric/violent contrasts with a steadfastness that underscored Bartok’s impending sense of doom.

That horror came to the forefront with String Quartet No. 4. Agitation alternated with ominous stillness in the second and third movements, then the creepy, marionettish pizzicato in the fourth and finally another menacing dance out in the final fifth movement. It’s not clear who is the victor in the triumphantly evil conclusion, avenging allies or their enemy. Afterward, in maybe a deliberate attempt to deflect the awestruck intensity they’d created, the group backed the vocalist of an indie rock band, sending the energy in the opposite direction. It was a brave attempt at classical/indie cross-pollination; if that was successful in putting a few extra bodies in the seats for the thrills and chills of the Bartok, so much the better.

November 3, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edgy String Band Eclecticism from the Real Vocal String Quartet

Former Turtle Island Quartet violinist Irene Sazer, a pioneer of string-band improvisation, founded the all-female Real Vocal String Quartet. You could characterize them as a less caustic. considerably more eclectic alternative to Rasputina. They’re playing Barbes on Oct 13 at midnight – and then they’re at Passim in Cambridge, MA the next day at 4:30 PM! That same sense of adventure pervades their music, drawing on genres from around the world to create an enchanting, original, sometimes gypsy-tinged blend.

The best song on their 2010 self-titled debut was a radical reworking of a Paul Simon song, of all things. This time around, they open their new album Four Little Sisters by radically reworking Regina Spektor’s Machines, first giving it a slyly satirical, robotic bounce and then roaring through an outro that’s the furthest thing from detached and coldly mechanical. Everybody in the band – Sazer, violinist Alisa Rose (also of Quartet San Francisco), violist Dina Maccabee and cellist Jessica Ivry – contributes vocals as well, therefore the band name.

Sazer’s instrumental Homage to Oumou follows, a swinging minor-key gypsy/klezmer romp capped by a blazing violin solo, held down by Ivry’s alternately stark, bowed washes and swinging pizzicato basslines. Elephant Dreams, by Rose, has a fresh, distantly West African tinge, swinging counterpoint and an edgy series of bluesy exchanges.

They begin Gilberto Gil’s Copo Vazio with an insistent staccato pulse, growing to pensive, lush chamber pop with a tersely thoughtful Sazer solo. Likewise, Maccabee’s arrangement of the cajun dance Allons a Lafayette gives it plenty of oomph – and some neat four-part vocal harmonies.

Duke Perarson’s Sweet Honey Bee is transformed by a Sazer arrangement into a tioptoeing but acerbic blues ballad with a long, intricately intertwining jam at the end – it makes a good segue with Vasen guitarist Roger Tallroth’s Falling Polska, a moody mix of the baroque and the Balkans. Durang’s Hornpipe, dating from the American Revolution, gets a rousing cajun treatment, and then a long jam, a vein they return to with the album’s more nocturnal concluding track, Grand Mamou Waltz. There’s also a bright, blue-sky cover of the Dirty Projectors’ Knotty Pine. It’s hard to think of another recent album that so entertainingly connects jazz, indie classical, jamband rock and so many other worlds as this one does.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | folk music, jazz, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment