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Rewardingly Dark, Insightful New Interpretations of Beethoven and Ligeti String Quartets

There’s a point toward the end of the Jupiter String Quartet’s new performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s iconic String Quartet No. 14, Op 131 where suddenly a series of echo effects kick in. One is strikingly quieter than the other. What a stunning contrast, and a stunning insight. It’s hard to think of another quartet who have seized on that particular phrase so dynamically – and they reprise that toward the end of the piece.

Obviously, the group went deep under the hood and came away with an interpretation that even in the rarified world of virtuoso classical music is especially meticulous. It’s the first piece on their new album Metamorphosis, streaming at youtube. Even if you’ve heard other quartets do it a million times, this one is worth discovering.

They approach that first movement with wistfulness but restlessness: overall, this recording in general tends to be faster and more vigorous than is commonplace, underscoring the piece’s persistent unease and, in places, unselfconscious angst. The group – violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel and cellist Daniel McDonough – also employ a more old-word, vibrato-laden touch, especially early on.

The subtle differences in the levels of the individual voicings in the second movement are equally revealing; unlike how some other quartets play it, this is more of a sway than a march. The momentary third movement is an emphatic launching pad for the next one’s expressive resilience, particularly in its evocation of Bach, persistently jabbing, insistent pizzicato and staccato, and a whispery setup to the song without words afterward.

Movement five is quite the romp, at least when the composer’s not threatening to send everybody home from the party, a breathtaking contrast with the sudden sorrow of the sixth. Reckless abandon is not what most people would expect, but there’s some of that in the wary, marching phrases of the conclusion.

György Ligeti’s Holocaust-themed String Quartet No. 1 seems like an unlikely companion piece, although it follows a similar trajectory. And this version is equally picturesque, if in a more overtly grim sense,  A violin wanders woundedly through nebulously rising wafts of battlefield smoke. Groupthink seems to plague the menacing authority figures here; aghast chromatic runs give way to muted shock and hope against hope. The demands of the piece on the quartet’s extended technique are daunting, and they negotiate those microtones, and shrieks, and incessant pivots, with the agility of a fugitive from fascists on the prowl. We may have to do the same, if we fail to stop ‘trace and track,” in moments where the only music is sirens or the screams of children torn from their parents.

July 25, 2020 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment