Beethoven: String Quartet No 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127
Schubert: Cello Quintet in C Major, Op. 163, D 956
Some of my jaunts to New York have a more distinctive flavor than others, and last Saturday kicked off one of my most emotionally charged Big Apple weekends to date. As fate would have it, on Saturday night I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the last ever performance by the 45-year old venerable Guarneri String Quartet after a 43-year run in the no less venerable institution. And on Sunday afternoon, the Staatskapelle Berlin Orchestra were performing their very last concert of the “Mahler: The Symphonies in Sequence” program at Carnegie Hall. But first things first, and it was on a beautiful spring evening that the Guarneri String Quartet were exceptionally reunited with their original cellist, David Soyer, for a Beethoven quartet and, most importantly, Schubert’s much beloved “String Quintet in C Major”, one of chamber music’s truly miraculous masterpieces.
Although I had bought my ticket months earlier, the ensemble’s prestigious reputation, the size of the auditorium and the very special nature of the occasion all contributed to my sitting on the stage, in the second row right behind the famous foursome. And it turned out that this unusual position ended up offering a peculiar advantage: as they attacked Beethoven’s piece, it soon became obvious that I would be able to perceive the sound from each instrument very vividly and distinctly, making the whole experience interestingly unique.
If the warm and graceful Beethoven had whetted our appetites, Schubert was a gloriously fulfilling main course and dessert rolled into one (which was a good thing because we did not get an encore). The rich texture and symphonic scope of this ambitious quintet, enhanced by the additional layer of darkness brought in by the second cello, was all the more perceptible to the audience members on the stage as we were so close to the source of the music. The infectious melodies as well as the more introspective passages all beautifully came together and masterfully filled the over-packed space where everybody was carefully holding their breath. The performance, as heart-felt and bittersweet as the music itself, was a truly memorable parting gift.
But all things have to come to an end, and after 10 minutes of rapturous applause and numerous curtain calls, it was time to say a sad but deeply appreciative good-bye. So we left, feeling grateful for the privilege of having borne witness to a grand concert and little bit of musical history.