REVIEW: Pacifica Quartet, new string quartet-in-residence, makes outstanding impression


MUSIC REVIEW: Pacifica Quartet, new string quartet-in-residence, makes outstanding impression

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |
October 22, 2012

The Pacifica Quartet made a couple of stops in Bloomington during recent years and, each time, made a fine impression. On those occasions, the musicians came as visitors.

Saturday afternoon, the group made another appearance in Auer Hall, but this time as citizens of the community, as the newly named string quartet-in-residence at IU’s Jacobs School of Music. Impression made: absolutely outstanding. The audience roared at concert’s end for a program of Prokofiev and Beethoven that deserved the cheers and that shed light both on the musicians and the music.

Ensembles of stature will do that. Their accomplishment in performance reveals motivations and level of talent. In the process, particularly when dealing with known repertory, they offer interpretations that amaze or engender thought, that startle or arouse emotions.

In a grippingly intense reading of Prokofiev’s Quartet Number 2 in F Major and a breathtaking traversal of Beethoven’s Opus 130 Quartet in B-Flat Major, the Pacifica revealed a sense of accord technically that would be hard to equal. The four musicians — violinists Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson, violist Masumi Per Rostad and cellist Brandon Vamos — moved along as a singularity, unified in attack and propulsion, unified by artistic purpose. They are a team, without question.

But one can sense in the listening that what the team is playing has, earlier, undergone laborious bouts of give and take. The performances heard were not the result of easy compromises, leaving members of the team in states of unsatisfying acceptance. They were, one could be sure, joint re-creations wrought by artists who had come to share conclusions about how the compositions should be played and why.

The Prokofiev was written during World War II, more specifically a period when the Soviet government moved a number of prominent artists away from a Nazi blitzkrieg and to a far-from-Moscow village in the Caucasus. There, Prokofiev came across folk music that he decided would become the substance for his Second Quartet. He took apart and reassembled the material, of course, and added gobs of jarring 20th century disharmonies.

When played with the verve of the Pacifica, the results continue to surprise. But in its realization of the score, one heard, along with dissonances, the bold colors and distinctive qualities of the original melodies. The old can easily be crushed by the new. That, fortunately, did not happen in the Pacifica’s torrid yet sensitive performance.

The Beethoven Opus 130 was played in a form not always used these days. The quartet was first designed to end with what now is catalogued as Opus 133, his “Grosse Fuge.” The publisher, believing that last movement to be too large and powerful for the rest of the quartet, asked Beethoven to write a new ending, which Beethoven did: an Allegro somewhat built on themes from earlier movements; it became the last music he wrote. Many performing groups use the reworked version and save the “Grosse Fuge” for other occasions.

The Pacifica chose the Opus 130, shorn of the Allegro and reconstituted with the Opus 133. As the music moved from the fifth movement, a gentle Cavatina, to the rush of a mighty fugue, the change was striking. The Cavatina, as written and voiced, emitted a beauty otherworldly in nature. The fugue’s rhythmic drive and harsh harmonics are something else again. Both movements, along with much that precedes in the Opus 130, make the listener think of a composer, deaf, increasingly a resident in his imagination, dreaming his music, sometimes in memory of what he knew and wrote in earlier years, sometimes searching the unknown future and musically addressing it. The Pacifica enhanced such contemplation.

The group’s reading was rich in detail, in nuances, in flow. It was carefully crafted but never fussy. And it contained the passion of musicians with deep feelings for and equally deep understanding of the music, all of that a thrill to experience.

Copyright: 2012

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