Super Quartet with Piano Postlude
Formed by Juilliard students in 2008, and active ever since, the wonderful Tesla Quartet finally made their Maverick Concerts yesterday, 13 years later. Management should not waste time re-engaging them.
Some string quartets carry on a conversation between four musicians, while others seek a 16-string unit. The Tesla Quartet has embarked on Haydn’s Quartet in C major, Op. 76, no. 3, the “Emperor”, which immediately shows that the Tesla seeks unity and achieves it extremely well. The balances were practically perfect and the folk dance segment in the development of the first movement sounded appropriately. Plus, we got to hear it twice, as the players gave us both the exposure and the development / recap rehearsals in this move, something we hardly ever hear. Principal violinist Ross Snyder explained after the concert, “There’s more material in there. We have to play it. I agree, but most quartets don’t.
Caroline shaw Plan and elevation: the lands of Dumbarton musically describes the famous domain for which Stravinsky wrote his Dumbarton Oaks Concerto. Shaw is an interesting composer and Pulitzer Prize winner, but this example ranged from captivating to bland. Beethoven and Debussy’s devious quotes from Shaw testified to lively musical skill. There is a lot of pizzicato in it Dumbarton, including some weirdly appealing effects; these passages showed the impressive precision of the group.
There was also a lot of weirdly tight ensemble work in Schubert’s String Quartet in G major, D. 887, his last. But that was not the most remarkable aspect of the memorable performance. This quartet perfectly integrated the remarkable innovations of Schubert’s writing, the rapid changes of emotion back and forth, the long expansions of long ideas, the way in which terror sometimes lurks behind pleasure. I really liked the tempo of the second movement, just a little faster than usual, not enough to feel rushed but enough to honor the “moto” in Schubert’s indication “Andante un poco moto”. The wide range of dynamics in the finale helped convey the impact of the music, and their subtle acceleration heightened the emotions.
Pianist Adam Tendler returned to the Maverick with a substantial postlude. Although the string quartet part was quite long, most of the audience stayed. Tendler has shown himself to Maverick before, as a specialist in contemporary music, but this time he opened with a beautiful and sensitive version of Schubert’s Allegretto in C minor, D. 915, including all of its covers.
Without a break, Tendler then embarked on Julius Eastman’s Piano 2. This black composer tragically passed away in 1990, many of his scores have been lost, but recently he has undergone a major revival and re-evaluation. Listening to Eastman on YouTube, I can understand what it is at least in part. Piano 2 unfolded like a somewhat episodic improvisation, sometimes fascinating, sometimes just fulfilling. Tendler’s subtle form made it the best it could be.
To conclude his mini-recital, Tendler took on one of the great challenges of the piano repertoire, Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka, written for Artur Rubinstein. (A live performance by Rubinstein recently appeared on the internet.) For years, Alexis Weissenberg’s recording has set the standard; I heard him reproduce this achievement in concert. From a remark from Tendler, it seems he is new to this work. He played with excellent musical comprehension, but resorted to relatively slow tempos and tricks like giving himself extra time to do difficult jumps. The audience ate it, but I’m overwhelmed to hear better takes. I hope Tendler’s repetitive and boring reminder wasn’t written by someone I love. Philip Glass maybe?
Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been a professional critic since 1966, for places such as Performance today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.