Last night we enjoyed a performance by the Pacifica Quartet. This group is fantastic. They have perfected a blending of their voices, so that no single voice overpowers the rest (unless or until the music requires it). And the program was stimulating.
They started with a Mendelssohn quartet (op. 44, no. 2), which I gather is seldom played (interesting article here about how Felix gets no respect — this is, note well, the 200th anniversary of his birth). The piece features an Andante (I’m a sucker for the slow movements) that our program notes called “an ardent love song,” but which sounded to me more like heartbreak, almost Brahmsian.
Then we went behind the iron curtain and heard a piece by the Hungarian composer György Ligeti, written in 1951 (“Métamorphoses nocturnes”). It was a “bottom-drawer” piece, meaning the sort of thing that will land you in a Gulag if you let it out. Very weird, funny, compelling music, constantly shifting, as if you’re trying to shake the secret police.
Finally came my Brahms, op. 52 no. 2 — for some time, my favorite Brahms quartet. The first three movements have a frustrated feeling about them, as if you’re trying to be happy but something keeps reminding you that LIFE IS SHORT AND YOU WILL DIE. But the final movement is triumphant. It oftenn runs through my head when I swim, ever since I noticed that the ba-bum rhythm of the theme mirrors Michael Phelps’ freestyle stroke: wa-wham – pause – wa-wham – pause). I spoke with violist Brandon Vamos afterward, and he thought there is still some hesitancy in the last movement — maybe so, but don’t spoil my fun.
What a fine young quartet!