Haydn: Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No 2
Shostakovich: Quartet No 7 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 108
Gubaidulina: Quartet No 2
Beethoven: Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No 2
One of Washington, DC’s wonderful perks is the impressive variety of free cultural events, musical and others, at everybody’s reach. Barely emerging and world-famous, but never short of talent, artists perform all-year long in various venues and the main issue is often the too many options to choose from. Well-known for its attractive Asian art collection and intimate space, the Freer Gallery of Art more than holds its own against the bigger, more impersonal and more crowded nearby Smithsonian museums on the Mall. On Wednesday night, the young, but fast-rising Jupiter String Quartet was scheduled to play an intriguing program that boasted quite a few crisscrossed connections. At some point Haydn was Beethoven’s teacher and helped him master the classic style and move on to bigger, and mostly better, things. By the same token, Gubaidulina was a student of Shostakovich’s, who encouraged her to continue down her “mistaken path” (as per Soviet censors) while at the Moscow conservatory.
The concert started with the classic and lively Haydn’s Quartet. It was traditional music at its best and a promising prelude to better things to come. And they came. The quartet by Shostakovich, one of my favorite composers, was everything I had hoped and more. Dedicated to the memory of his late wife, this deeply emotional piece bristled with his trademark anguish without falling into too dark a mood. The melancholy of the second movement was an eerie reminder of the beginning of his beautiful violin concerto, and the third movement had all the unbridled fierceness of the same concerto’s cadenza linking the third and fourth movements. The Jupiter gave it unconditional life and fire, and turned it into my personal highlight of the evening.
Next was a one-movement piece by Sofia Gubaidulina, a prolific and eclectic composer still living in Germany, mostly known for her religious devotion and original oeuvre. We had been asked not to clap between Shostakovich’s and her quartet to allow for a seamless transition to happen. It started with one bare note and gave way to quite an unusual performance. While occasionally sounding more like an academic exercise for musicians than a made-for-public-consumption musical work, especially with some of the cello’s utterances jarringly reminiscent of mosquitoes relentlessly buzzing, the overall effect was undeniable attention-grabbing. Eventually Beethoven brought us all back onto familiar territory and gave the Jupiter musicians the opportunity to conclude this superb concert with brio and assertiveness.