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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Concert Review: It's Gotta Be the Shoes

Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Emerson String Quartet at Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Steve Madden Caviarr Rhinestone Slip-On. In Men's Sizes.
The annual visit to Mostly Mozart by the Emerson String Quartet is a joyous occasion, a cnahnce for New Yokrkers trapped in the sweltering and ever deepening canyons of  gotham to hear one of the best chamber music ensembles in the country without leaving the fortress of Manhattan. On Monday night at Alice Tully Hall, the eminent Emersons were joined by French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet for a program of Mozart, Beethoven and Fauré at Alice Tully Hall.

With the departure of cellist David Finckel a few years ago, the Emersons survived a major membership change. Happily, Paul Watkins is a top-flight player and the sound of the quartet is as firm and supple as ever. The Mozart Quartet in G is the first of that composer's six dedicated to fellow Austrian composer Franz Josef Haydn. Haydn was a contemporary of Mozart's, the composer who in addition to perfecting what we know of as classical symphonic form, also was the inventor of the string quartet.

The older composer's influence can clearly be heard in the opening first subject of the opening movement a playful skipping game for the four players that tosses a warm, light-hearted theme back and forth with a steady rhythm that provides forward momentum. The minuet is a contrast between two musical groups, with the violins playing a courtly theme and the lower instruments responding with an almost rustic saw. The Andante, with its delicate intertwining vocal lines for violins sounded like a lost operatic duet, and the chugging final Rondo leapt ahead with a main theme that was later recycled for the Three Ladies' "Wie, wie, wie" in Die Zauberflöte.

Op. 135 is the final complete work by Beethoven, and it is a strange, sometimes surreal ride. The Emersons are expert guides to this work, playing here with the right combination of weight and lightness to convey the serious musical ideas at work as the completely deaf composer used that as a kind of freedom to push into new territories and inspire those who followed. The main theme, when it finally coalesced out of short, staccato string figures was soaring and lush, with the cello and violin offering acerbic commentary in its wake. The second movement was positively manic, with a skipping rhythm interrupted by hammer-blows from the lower strings.

The third movement allowed the players to stretch out on long singing melodic lines, collectively mourning with sweet lines for the violin and viola. This was in total contrast to the finale, a dizzying set of variations and contrapuntal ideas culminating in a climactic sprint through the last variation, a set of questions and answers that Beethoven finally finishes with a sense of joyful affirmation. The coda has a sense of punch-line, played pizzicato and pianissimo before then finishing with a cascade that ends in a loud final cadence.

The quartet returned (minus Mr. Dutton) for the second half, joined by Mr. Thibaudet. Although Mr. Thibaudet is a reknowned international virtuoso, he is also noted for his sense of style and dress. here the centerpiece was hs hoice of concert shoes, a pair of custom concert shoes that were surfaced entirely in what looked like rhinestones. But there was nothing flashy about his musicianship, as his piano became the all-important fourth voice in the Piano Quartet No. 1 by Gabriel Fauré.

Although not programmed often, this is an outstanding argument for French chamber music, having a warm, emotional and yet refined quality that is instantly appealing to the ear. Mr. Thibaudet and the Emerson players combined for a refined, smooth sound that balanced perfectly. Faure's first movement delights in the combination of different instruments together, wit hthe piano's many voices supporting the strings and vice versa. The second movement was a merry hare-and-hounds scherzo that reversed directions in the trio section before continuing the pursuit.

The slow movement was a bleak lament, a portrait of suffering and bereavement in a post-Wagnerian mode, relieved only by a hopeful ascending chromatic scale. In the finale, Fauré deftly combined key ideas from all three movements as the opening theme, the pursuit idea and the upward scale vied for attention before racing to a triumphant finish. For the encore, Mr. Dutton returned and the newly augmented ensemble played a dazzling rendition of the scherzo from the Dvorak Piano Quintet. The strength of this collaboration makes one hope that these musicians will join forces again in the not-too-distant future.

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