United States Webern, Berg, Schubert: Juilliard String Quartet, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, 27.10.2014 (SSM)
Webern: Fünf Satze fur Streichquartett (Five Movements for String Quartet), Op. 5
Berg: String Quartet, Op. 3
Schubert: String Quartet in D minor,(“Death and the Maiden”)
The excellent program notes for this performance includes a quotation from Webern that is most telling, “In 50 years one will find it [my music] so obvious, children will understand it and sing it.” What other 50 year or even 100 year period in the history of music could make Webern’s statement less true than the period in which these first two composers of the Second Viennese School flourished? To look back 50 or 100 years from the vantage point of the early to the middle 19th century, to the early and middle 18th century, the music of Haydn and Handel were considered, if anything, old-fashioned. We, on the other hand, still think of much of our musical past as noisy and impenetrable. It has been over a 100 years since the 2 opening works on this program were composed and still nothing of Webern’s music could be considered standard repertory. Excluding his opera, Wozzeck, and his violin concerto, the same could be said of Berg. Even Beethoven whose music in his time was considered too “modern” and too difficult to play, 50 to 100 years later had become standard repertory.
Certainly, for the Quartet, there were no questions as to the viability of these works: these pieces are simply great music and, as such, were deserving of the extraordinary performances afforded them. How alive all the music sounded, the notes seemingly etched into their very being. How rare and self-effacing to have the first chair given to the youngest musician, Joseph Lin, in deference to the future when younger players in the next generation will fill their empty chairs. How respectful and responsive were the players to Lin’s directional cues. From where I sat I could see, Roger Tapping, who had little need to have his eyes on scores of work so familiar, had them instead focused on Lin, awaiting any signals that might come from him. Lin’s technique and style of playing is so different from his more conservative partners: swaying, almost jumping out of his seat, grimacing and making gestures with his bow. What impressed me was the total control he had over his instrument. He seemed to have the uncanny ability to produce a large sounds from very light pressure on the strings.
The Schubert was played with a finesse and a warmth (not heat) that felt primordial. There was not the slightest sense that this music, which has been in their repertory for decades, has lost any of its edge.
At the end of the concert, the Quartet came back on stage three times before they played an encore: the first two times as pairs with arms over each other’s shoulders, the second time in the same manner except with their other partners and the third all together to give a sensitive reading of the second movement Largo e cantabile from Haydn’s Quartet Op. 33 No.5
The grandest cliche one can state about an ensemble’s performance is that,”They played as if they were one.” But there must be a way of saying that they were even better then that. Without trying to be arcane, one might, perhaps, propose a Zen type encomium that reads, “They played as if they were zero”.
Parts of this review have been rescinded and the author apologizes for his misinformed comments. [ed.]