December 3, 2008 at 4:16 PM
You greet the end of a hard, stressful Tuesday afternoon with either a snide goodbye or a true embrace. Retire into the evening sitting by the fireplace dreaming about the beaches of Miami. Consider seeing the Jupiter String Quartet play with the Russians.
The sophistication of yesterday night's program was warmly bearable, though the Russian pieces highlighted in the program may have raised eyebrows. The quartet launched its program with Haydn's Opus 77, one in F major, followed by Shostakovich's F-sharp Minor quartet with a segue to Gubaidulina. The evening ended with Britten's bright Opus 36 in F major.
The Haydn may have been the most welcoming of all the quartets. Written in 1799, the quartet served a handful of jokes, and the musician's themselves turned the piece into some kind of jolly conversation, the first violin chatting with the cello and the second violin laughing with the viola. The Jupiter Quartet truly made Alice Pratt Brown, a rather large setting for a string quartet, seem like an intimate living room. The Haydn, however, may have been a welcome-home sort of greeting for what was to come later in the program.
The Shostakovich Quartet in F-sharp Minor found a deep link with the audience. Composed during February and March of 1960, it is Shostakovich's shortest quartet. It was composed in memory of his wife Nina, who had died six years earlier. The quartet builds upon Shostakovich's signature technique of transforming short motifs into full-fledged themes. With a robust attitude, the Jupiter String Quartet explicitly reflected the depression that fell upon Shostakovich after the death of his wife and during political repression of Soviet intellectuals. The mourning cry of the cello was perfectly accented by the force of the violist, a combat of wits and will between the government and the composer's conscience. The two violinists provided a cohesive variation of the minor motif in which completed a portrait of Shostakovich at his lowest point in life.
Immediately following the Shostakovich, the quartet segued into the Gubaidulina. Perhaps the most prolific piece of the night, the piece centered around a G, sustained in turns by each instrument while being ornamented primarily by the first and second violinists. There was no melody, but the extroverted piece was truly a musical genius.
The Jupiter String Quartet closed the evening following intermission with the bright Opus 36 quartet by Benjamin Britten. Britten, who was known to have Haydn scores on his bedside table, truly echoed Haydn in the piece, though there also were prevalent attributes to the music of his close friend Shostakovich. The same tumultuous aura was throughout the piece. The violins provided a bight contrast to the darkness emoted from the piece by the viola. The cello matched with vigor of large proportions, reflecting the destruction Britten saw when he returned to England after the Second World War. The quartet ends with a Ciaconna, a series of cadenzas by each of the musicians in which one would hear the unmistakable mourning that the composer carried within him as he saw what had happened to his home country. With deliberate conviction, the quartet pummeled through a series of chords, ending the piece with a sense of hopelessness for what was to be the future. As the final strike was drawn, there was no doubt that the evening had offered the best kind of virtuosity from these young musicians.
The Jupiter is an excellent quartet. I knew the second violin and viola (Liz and Megan Freivogel) when they were kids because their brother was a good friend of my son's. They have two brothers. The one who was my son's friend played violin and the other one played cello. They used to play as a family string quartet at places like the Kennedy Center in DC. All have become professional musicians. Interestingly, I think their father had trouble carrying a tune, and their mother was not a great musician either.
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