Franz Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D 810 (Death and the Maiden)
Cosimo Carovani: Cello
Ida Di Vita: Violin
Eleonora Matsuno: Violin
Jamiang Santi: Viola
Giovanni Bietti: Host
My carefully planned move to the quieter and greener neighborhood of Flaminio in Rome has first and foremost put me at a fantastically short distance from the Parco della Musica, which will allow me to attend plenty of concerts and other exciting cultural events there, hopefully of the same caliber as the terrific performance that the Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia delivered last Saturday under the baton of Ivan Fischer.
What I had not anticipated though, was that it would put me at a slightly longer but still walkable distance from another, much more low-key but still very promising, music venue, the Sala Casella, which turned out to be one of the performance spaces, as well as the headquarters, of the Accademia Filarmonica Romana, AKA the other major source of high-quality live classical music in Rome. Talk about killing two birds with one stone, or rather hitting two places with one move.
So, without further ado, I got a ticket for the first of four music lessons dedicated to the string quartet, in general, and the links between the classical tradition of late 17th-early 18th century Vienna and the modern trends of the early 20th century, in particular. This fifth collaboration between the Accademia Filarmonica Romana and Rai Radio 3 sounded like the perfect opportunity to go check out the place and indulge in some more live music last Sunday.
The prospect was all the more compelling as the program would feature the odd couple of Franz Schubert and Anton Webern, would be performed by the young but already much in demand Quartetto Indaco, fresh from winning no less than the first prize at the prestigious Osaka International Chamber Music Competition, and would be hosted by eminent composer, pianist and musicologist, as well as Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia di Roma’s artistic consultant, Giovanni Bietti.
So I walked down to the lovely estate, made friends with the originally suspicious house cat, and grabbed a seat in the smallish, unadorned and welcoming space, which quickly filled up to near capacity with an apparent mix of regulars and first-timers, and everything in between.
Although it seemed more logical to hear Schubert first, Bietti had decided to do it the other way around, saving the significantly bigger piece for last, and it actually worked out very well. Thanks to his copious and insightful comments, which were all individually illustrated by the quartet before they played the entire composition (all 11 minutes of it) in one go, we got to appreciate the high concentration and meticulous composition of Webern’s Five Movements for Quartet, Opus 5, at a whole other level.
Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet, which frequently appears in chamber music programs, and occasionally in pop culture too, all over the world, was neatly deconstructed with the same bottomless knowledge and communicative enthusiasm, and enabled the neophytes among us to more easily discern the wide range of the themes, the stark contrast between darkness and light, and the hypnotic rhythmical repetitions. Last, but not least, our enlightened selves got to marvel at the final 16-note bouquet in all its dazzling splendor.
And what about the mystery link between the two rather different composers? Well, minimalism, of course. Although that concept is much spontaneously associated with Webern and other composers who built on his lead, it is in fact present in Schubert’s œuvre too since, as Bietti pointed out, the man had composed over 1,000 pieces by the time he died at the young age of 31. Even with an early start and uncompromising industriousness, he had to reduce some compositions to come up with that kind of abundant output.
Granted, Death and the Maiden may not be the most obvious example of it, but hearing it perform so superbly made us all forget about music theory anyway. The expansive first movement had to be played separately from the rest of the work in order to spread all the information about the quartet more evenly, and to avoid having the tolling bells of a nearby church included in the session recording. But I thoroughly enjoyed the total of 40 minutes of pure musical bliss regardless, and am looking forward to coming back for more.