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Concert Review: The Chiara String Quartet Play Beethoven in NYC 2/5/10

The Chiara String Quartet are winding up their Beethoven cycle this year. Maybe it’s all the practice, or that they play a lot of concerts in more sonically challenging places like bars and rock clubs, but either way their mastery of the material is such that they can command the subtlest dynamics, some of which when even gently applied make an enormous difference in the music. Not only was their show Friday night a clinic in how to locate the gems tucked away in the corners of a piece and then shine them up so everybody knows they’re there, it was just as much an emotionally charged overview of Beethoven’s career. In the spacious confines of Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church (tucked into the back of the Lincoln Center complex, home to the Jupiter Symphony players), the Chiara Quartet took the audience along for a vivid ride from Beethoven’s first string quartet through one of his last.

The String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3, actually the first that Beethoven ever wrote, dates from the end of the 1700s and really needed all those dynamics. It must be a lot more fun to play than it actually is to listen to: all those endless volleys of call-and-response get tedious after a couple of minutes. How to draw in a 21st century audience far more sophisticated (and probably far larger) than the small circle of courtesans who heard it first? Accentuate its occasional astringencies, its atonalities and proto-modernisms, because there are a bunch of them (Brahms’ more stodgy chamber works are the same way). Perhaps Beethoven craftily wove them in to see how closely everybody was paying attention.

He wrote the String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 in 1808: what a difference ten years made. From the first few tricky syncopations of the opening movement, it was clear that the paradigm had been shifted, and as a result the quartet could ease back and let the piece speak more for itself. The second movement was a feast of little pleasures – a neat pianissimo climb to Vivaldiesque insistence; a clever, artfully orchestrated series of riffs making the rounds, violinist Rebecca Fischer passing off to her counterpart Julie Yoon, to violist Jonah Sirota and cellist Gregory Beaver, who would soon afterward deliver several snappy, intense pizzicato passages including a potently plucked bass solo to end it.

The piece de resistance was the A Minor, Op. 132, one of the late quartets from just two years before Beethoven’s death. It has reputation for transcendence and was precisely that. Yoon held wary and unwavering early on while the other voices conversed around her; Sirota led them into wintry terrain, viola and cello adding a gravitas mostly absent from the rest of the program. The highlight was the third movement, written after the composer had recovered from what he’d thought was the illness that would finally kill him, and in this ensemble’s hands it took on the raptly hymnal, plaintive tone of a giant, haunting accordion chord and successive permutations – minimalism, 1825 style.

The Chiara String Quartet are here tomorrow, 2/7 playing the same program at 4 PM at Union Church of Bay Ridge, 8101 Ridge Blvd. and 80th St. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; they’re back on 4/26 at Symphony Space for the Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival.

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February 7, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments