Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tokyo String Quartet - Schubert, Haydn & Bartok - 05/11/13

Schubert: String Quintet in C Major, D. 956 - Lynn Harrell
Haydn: String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 103 (Unfinished)
Bartok: String Quartet No 6

Nonplussed by our late night on Friday, my mum and I were back on the music scene on Saturday evening for the last New York appearance of the world-famous Tokyo String Quartet, who have decided to bid us all farewell after 43 seasons. After hearing them at the Strathmore Music Center a few years ago, I was very much looking forward to enjoying their tremendous talents in the more intimate concert hall of the 92Y, where they have been the quartet in residence since the 2003/2004 season.
To make the occasion even more special, acclaimed cellist Lynn Harrell would be joining for what has to be one of my very favorite chamber music pieces, Schubert's expansive String Quintet in C Major, as well as works by Haydn and Bartok. So it was in front of an almost full and definitely excited house that the Tokyo String Quartet and Lynn Harrell took their places on that stage for what had to be a historic performance.

Clocking in at just under an hour, Schubert's ultimate chamber music masterpiece, his String Quintet in C Major, is both endlessly complex and unabashedly lyrical. This winning combination was all the more dazzling in the hands of those five distinguished musicians, who took the time to dig deep into the work and bring out all its fundamentally emotional and spontaneously irresistible qualities. Listening to the strings playing one another off and impeccably meshing together, it was not hard to assume that as he was feeling death creeping ever closer every day, Schubert threw all he had and then some into this magnificent swan song. The two cellos, replacing the more common two violas, added deeply seductive dark tones to an already extraordinarily accomplished composition and decisively turned it into a classic for the ages. On Saturday night, the bittersweet beauty of the music, especially in the ethereal second movement, came through even more vividly and movingly than expected, and the heart-felt performance was greeted by a well-deserved huge ovation.
After such a journey, Haydn's String Quartet in D Minor sounded kind of low-key, but still very pleasant in its graceful classicism. Those 10 minutes were just what was needed before moving on to Bartok's much more idiosyncratic endeavor.
The Hungarian composer's String Quartet No 6 is for sure not a happy-go-lucky testimony, and the fact that it was written on the eve of World War II, right before he fled Hungary, probably had something to do with it. Performed with just the right amount of ferociousness and poignancy, livened up with a distinct touch of folksong flair, Bartok's sixth string quartet came out full of complicated, colorful life, exactly as it should be. A supreme ending to a supreme run.

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