REVIEW (HT Pacifica Quartet) Riveting, reverential: Concerts reflect composers’ views

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PACIFICA QUARTET AND NEW MUSIC ENSEMBLE

MUSIC REVIEWS: Riveting, reverential: Concerts reflect composers’ views

By Peter JacobiH-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com
December 3, 2012

For its second concert since gaining IU Jacobs School residency, the Pacifica Quartet on Friday evening in Auer Hall turned to more Beethoven, the composer whose cycle of string quartets it means to record starting next year, and to Shostakovich, whose quartets the group has nearly finished recording.

So one heard music very much on the mind and heart of these remarkable performers. The Shostakovich came first, his A Major Quartet No. 2, a wartime composition written in 1944. Although no direct period theme is to be discerned, the score vibrates with tension. The dissonance of the opening movement, an Overture, suggests an atmosphere out of balance and unresolved, surely reflective of the period. The Adagio that follows, a Recitative and Romance, recalls Tchaikovsky; its haunting melodic sweep pushed first violinist Simin Ganatra into operatic territory, so dramatically emotional and so potent were the substance assigned her.

Shostakovich referred to the third movement, a muted Waltz, as a “valse macabre,” one that keeps the feel of the quartet unsettled. A moody “Russian”-sounding melody, given to the violist and played gorgeously by Masumi Per Rostad, introduces the closing Theme and Variations, the latter loaded with sensations and technical fireworks. The Pacifica’s performance was riveting.

So, too, was the ensemble’s Beethoven, his Opus 132 String Quartet in A Minor. Here, the musicians, as Beethoven surely meant them to, revealed the composer’s conscience. While working on the piece, he had fallen painfully ill. The condition improved, which led him to write the sublime third movement, an Adagio labeled “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart” (“Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian mode”). The Pacifica’s reading made the music a reverential prayer, stunningly hushed and evocative. The Allegros leading up to the prayer and the one that followed made, for the listener, what felt like a journey into Beethoven’s soul. Audience response exploded into cheers.

New Music

Thursday evening’s New Music Ensemble concert consisted of works that could not have been much newer: a 2005 piece re-mastered in 2012, a 2010 composition and a world premiere. David Dzubay, the ensemble’s director and indefatigable searcher for the new, conducted all three, including his own, the above-mentioned premiere.

It is called “Producing for a While” and was inspired by a poem of that title by the American poet Julie Choffel. The words amount to repetitive doggerel from a woman unhappily involved in some sort of creative project; they’re built on the line, “I think I’m done with producing for a while.” Soprano Lindsey McLennan sang those words with appropriate exasperation and was backed by an instrumental ensemble of 20, dishing out amusing musical stutters. The score definitely holds charm.

Twelve wind and percussion players along with a guitarist supplied the sounds for “the art of disappearing,” an intriguing work fashioned in 2005 (refashioned in 2012) by Paula Matthusen, a composer from Wesleyan University, who was present at the concert. Matthusen’s imagination also was roused by a poem, that of another U.S. writer, Naomi Shihab Nye. The composer’s program notes state her music is meant to invoke “the delicacy of sonic interactions in both exterior and interior spaces.” One could read that into what one heard: rises and falls in dynamics ranging from mere blown-out breath to sophisticated cacophony.

Both the Dzubay and Matthusen compositions benefited from brevity; they said what they were meant to say in compression and were the stronger for it. Matthias Pintscher’s “sonic eclipse,” to the contrary, went on and on and on through three extended movements, all designed to represent the wonders and mysteries of the cosmos. The sounds produced suggested such but would have done so with far greater impact if seriously and judiciously pruned. Soloists John Rommel on trumpet and Jeff Nelson on horn shaped the hushes and noises masterfully, as did the 18 other players. And Dzubay conducted with knowing conviction as, indeed, he did all evening.

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012

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