Burning strings at the Conservatory
The Philomusica was brilliant Monday in quartets by Haydn, Glass and Beethoven.
The free and easy pleasure of Haydn’s String Quartet Opus 33, No. 2 (“The Joke”) flowed from the Philomusica Quartet Monday evening. The playful give and take among violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexandr Mandl, violist Nathan Hackett and cellist Adrien Zitoun exactly fit the spirit of this piece, which has its poignant slow movement but is mostly mischief.
They had lots of fun with the slippery glissandi in the scherzo, which were Haydn’s little one-liners. And they timed Haydn’s big punchlines, at the very end, impeccably. They’re all about deceptive cadences, false endings and odd silences, which the audience couldn’t help but fill with laughter. It’s hard to be funny with music; it’s not the joke, it’s how you tell it, and the Philomusica recast itself as the Henny Youngman String Quartet and made Haydn’s jokes work.
Philip Glass spent many of his formative years in Paris, and the harmonies and extended harmonies and unruly forms and impulses of Debussy and Ravel bob atop the bubbling Minimalist ostinati of the String Quartet No. 5, from 1991.
The Philomusica freed the delirium in this music right away, in dreamy chords tuned to set the air in the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Bader Recital Hall to quivering. They phrased the melodies in the first movement to emphasize their intoxicating swoon. The electric pulse of Zitoun’s cello put an electric charge in the perpetuum mobile second movement, in treble explosions of scales shot like fireworks into the night sky from the low murmurings of the third. Thrilling locomotive rhythms, just irregular enough to jolt here and their, drove the fourth movement, and percolating poly-rhythms, jangling pentatonic harmonies and roller-coaster scales made for a thrilling finale.
The vividness and specificity of impulse the players lavished on one of Glass’ greatest works carried over to Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” Quartet (Opus 59, No. 2), with the added dimension of fierce Romantic drama.
You could sense the players’ acute awareness of the unfolding structure, the tonal plateaus, the harmonic pressure points and the unfolding structure throughout this performance. The explosive chords that interrupt the flow of the first movement were not mere chords but emotional spasms.
I’ve heard the Razumovsky a 100 times or more, but I’ve never been so struck by the startling rhythmic originality of the scherzo. The Philomusica brought out the bizarre limp in its dance rhythms as I’ve never heard it before and yes, yes, that’s exactly the thing. Kim, Mandl, Hackett and Zitoun topped that with a finale white-hot in its drive and intensity.
The Philomusica, quartet in residence at the Wisconsin Conservatory, will play there next on April 8. You should go. Monday’s concert, by the way, ended a remarkable and entirely coincidental run of three string quartet concerts in four days, with the Rubens Quartet visiting from Holland and the Pro Arte dropping in from Madison.