American String Quartet satisfies
The American String Quartet lavished attentive and responsive playing on three favorites of chamber music connoisseurs Tuesday in Harris Hall. With violist Masao Kawasaki enriching the ASQ’s silvery sound, Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor proved the most satisfying item on a tasty program that included Berg’s youthful String Quartet Op. 3 and Beethoven’s popular “Razumovsky” Quartet Op. 59 no. 2.The supple textures and dark tones of the Mozart never turned brooding, even as the music remained mostly in a minor key until a relatively joyful finale. First violin Peter Winograd and violist Daniel Avshalamov repeatedly gave a deft touch to the melodies, more sinuous than Mozart’s usual approach. Cellist Wolfram Koessel anchored a deep-pile texture with second violin Laurie Carney weaving through almost unobtrusively for a fine balance.In the Berg, what struck the ear was all the different sonorities the composer’s early foray into atonality could achieve. Berg seldom could bring himself to hew too closely to the strident dissonances common to his other atonal-minded friends Schoenberg and Webern. He often contrived to make his tone rows produce harmonies that were familiar-sounding if still complex and arresting to hear. The players seemed to relish these sonorities, shaping beautiful sounds even with intervals others might push into harshness. Every time the music turned another corner, they had another sound color to show us.With the quartet favoring fleet tempos and a buoyant sound, the Beethoven mostly whizzed by in a flash. Time stopped for the rapturous Adagio, however, which got sustained and serene playing.On paper, Monday’s artist faculty concert looked promising. It juxtaposed short pieces by Stravinsky with those of Paris contemporaries from the 1920s. But despite juicy performances of Stravinsky’s Octet for winds and Concertino for winds plus a violin and cello, the rest of the program ranged from diverting to tedious.It didn’t help that a long (if informative) lecture delayed the start for 15 minutes, or that a snafu due to repeated re-ordering of the program caused a long delay to re-set the changing ensemble’s chairs before the first of several short song cycles.Despite the best efforts of three sopranos and small ensembles on quirky songs by Ravel and Delage, they didn’t add up to much. (Gabrielle Athayde making her cello sound like a sitar was the highlight of Delage’s “Four Hindu Poems.”) If the point was to show that Stravinsky outdid them in the same style, point made. Schmitt’s pleasant “A tour d’anches” for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano had its moments, but it’s not compelling music.Harvey Steiman’s weekly commentary about the Aspen Music Festival is founded in 14 years of attendance and a background as a professional critic.