Daedalus String Quartet at Maverick

Woodstock, NY got hit hard by Hurricane Irene which pummeled through, leaving many without power. Maverick Concerts was included in the list of people and places without power, so concerts got postponed last week. Luckily, the damage to the venue wasn’t too intensive and performances resumed this past Sunday with the Daedalus Quartet, as scheduled. For the first half of the program the musicians performed quartets by Haydn and Schumann, and for the second half they were joined by the phenomenal baritone Andrew Garland for a piece by Othmar Schoeck.

Hadyn’s String Quartet in E Flat Major, nicknamed “The Joke,” begins playfully with first violin cheerily dancing around and with the other instruments. The music is mostly light and effervescent, but there are moments when a shadowy undercurrent can be heard, briefly breaking the otherwise carefree attitude of the music. Those moments don’t last long, however, and the movement is quite delicate but spirited in its own right. The second movement begins as first violin leads the other instruments into staccato notes played in unison. After an introduction, first violin plays slides that are impish yet also slightly melancholy while the other instruments provide accompaniment. The four instruments then return to the opening short notes played in unison to close the second movement. The largo  third movement features simple but stunning notes and begins droopily before livening up. Despite this, however, the movement contains a cloaked, bittersweet quality. It’s interesting how sparse or full a quartet can sound depending on the piece, composer, or musicians, and the third movement of Hadyn’s quartet was breathtakingly rich and vibrant when played by the Daedalus Quartet. The fourth movement is a drastic break from the tender quality of the third, and it’s fast and exciting from the opening. First violin practically spits out notes, on to the next almost before your ears and brain can register the first. The roles of second violin, viola, and cello are largely supporting ones, but they too are vital to the movement and its progression. Towards the end of the piece the runs on first violin are broken up, separated by lengthy silences, effectively creating a sense of expectancy in the listener and leaving you on the edge of your seat. Finally, after the longest pause that seems to hang in the air forever, the final nimble run is softly played, closing the piece with a smirk.

One of the most stunning quartets there is, Schumann’s Quartet in A Minor, Op. 41, No. 1 opens incredibly lyrically and is full of soft, gentle motion. However, after a pause the music changes, becoming less dreamy and more deliberate. Viola plays runs full of staccato notes, as do first and second violins. The music swells and pulses as though itself breathing as the musicians do, and the dynamics — both the loudness and softness of the music as well as the energy and interplay between the instruments — are thrilling. The music of the first movement churns around a fixed place like a tornado, everything around it a whirlwind. The second movement begins with an immediately present driving force, the music marching onward like an army of dark spirits. This nearly ceaseless driving force is broken only by a brief interlude that temporarily calms the music. It is legato, sunny, and majestic, but just as quickly as it came so is it eaten up by the dark fury that returns to close the movement. The third movement evokes imagery of a morning full of promise slowly unfolding, the calm after the storm of the previous movement. It brings to mind slanting, golden sunlight gently warming and lighting fragrant fields and calm waters. Midway, viola and second violin alternate playing climbing arpeggios, and the music becomes denser as this pattern continues. Near the end the music loosens, however, closing in a mist of tender harmonies. The final movement begins somewhat sharply, full of drama. The music is full of accents, staccato notes, and abrupt stops and starts. The music races onward, never resting, and could quite easily cause an elevated pulse rate in the listener. Towards the end the instruments play sustained notes which drone like a bagpipe, leading into a short calm section before the music returns with more drama than before and quickens to finish.

After intermission, the Daedalus Quartet was joined by the phenomenal baritone Andrew Garland to perform Othmar Schoeck’s Notturno, Op. 47.  It isn’t commonly played, and the Daedalus Quartet actually learned it specifically for the concert at Maverick.  The piece is based mainly on poems by Nikolaus Lenau, but also one by the poet Gottfried Keller. Russell Platt, the brother of Maverick music director Alexander Platt, is actually responsible for Alexander knowing about the piece (and Andrew Garland, for that matter, who has appeared at Maverick before). Russell apparently heard the piece as a child at a summer camp when he was searching through vinyl records for a specific piece by Samuel Barber. According to Russell, the piece that he wanted to hear was at the end of the B side of a record. When he set the needle down it didn’t land on the Barber piece but the one before it, which happened to be the Notturno, and he was immediately taken with it. Later, so was his brother — and, as of Sunday, all those in the audience who had never heard the piece before (myself included). Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, but there are also things music alone can’t express as words or song can — at least not with the same force or explicitness. It isn’t even always the language itself, but the emotion and power behind the  human voice. For example, I don’t speak German (the language Notturno is sung in), but simply listening to Andrew Garland was enough to draw an emotional response from me; it was emotion I followed, not words. That being said, Russell Platt explained a little bit about the poems and recited part of one before the second half of the program began. That, combined with the program notes, provided a narrative outline I could follow. Interestingly, the instruments are just as prominent as voice throughout most of the piece and there are many moods and influences found in the music. Russell said of Notturno (specifically the last movement), “there is nothing else like it in the history of music,” and I would agree. Heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, it’s truly a magnificent work.

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