Saturday, December 6, 2008

Juilliard String Quartet - Mendelssohn, Dutilleux & Ravel - 12/05/08

Mendelssohn: String Quartet
Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit
Ravel: Quartet in F Major

After an erratic week dealing with a high and undeserved plumbing bill and an ever-elusive computer technician, an evening with the Juilliard String Quartet seemed just what the doctor ordered. This was a last-minute decision, but I sure wish they all landed such satisfying results. One of the oldest and most widely recognized American chamber music ensembles, the Juilliard Quartet has been such a familiar sight on the music scene for so long that it is easy to just take their presence and talent for granted. So it’s good to sometimes pause and really listen to the wonderful music these eminent musicians make when they play together.

The program started safely with a string quartet by Mendelssohn, which vividly expressed in typical Mendelssohn fashion a powerful emotional roller-coaster. I have to say that I needed a bit of time to settle in after another hectic day and did not pay much attention to the announcer who came onstage before the concert to announce a change in the program (another Mendelssohn quartet was listed). Never mind, it was a truly delightful piece, brilliant and refined, and a wonderful way to get things started.
The second piece was much different, and had a decidedly contemporary flair to it. Composed by Dutilleux for the Juilliard Quartet, Ainsi la Nuit ("So is the night") consists of seven multi-layered short movements whose themes and ideas often magically overlap. Strongly influenced by Proust’s concept of memory, the music evokes memories and emotions while being at the same time unified and multi-faceted. It was by no means easy listening, but if one paid enough attention, twittering insects and the far off sounds of church bells coudl sporadically be heard. Very subtle and impressionistic, it was a delicate and interesting departure from the romantic élans of the Mendelssohn's.
After the intermission, we stayed in 20th century France with Ravel. Lovely melodies, quick changes of moods and an irregular finale were the main ingredients of his Quartet in F Major, and the Juilliard musicians gave a sharp, clean performance of this well-loved piece.

As a reward for our enthusiastic ovation, they came back to play the third movement of a sonata by Haydn, and proved one more time their easy mastery of various musical forms.

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