Lydian's 'World' concert touches on Cuba, Taiwan
WALTHAM -- The string quartet is, by its nature, a conservative organization and the Lydian String Quartet's "Around the World in a String Quartet" series didn't begin very far from home.
At Brandeis University's Slosberg Recital Hall on Saturday, in the first concert in a planned five-year series, the Lydians programmed pieces by a Brandeis faculty member with Taiwanese heritage, an exiled Cuban now living in America, and Beethoven. If the choices were not outlandish, the performances were top-notch, as one expects from this group, Brandeis' resident quartet since 1980.
Jazz composer Paquito D'Rivera's "Village Street Quartet," a 25-minute piece written in 2000 in tribute to the ethnic street music he heard in New York City after he moved from Havana, evolves from a mournful melody in the muted viola, echoed by the other players, through some academic passage-work, to a tango, then a wilder dance in a klezmer style, back to another tango with pizzicatti. In the final minutes, it has the players drumming their hands on their instruments, and ending with a loud foot stomp. The music stopped, to these ears, just when it was letting itself go.
Brandeis composition teacher Yu-Hui Chang was represented in "Shadow Chase" (2003), a 15-minute work that self-consciously draws on Beethoven's Quartet in C-minor, with which it was paired on the program. The piece displays each instrument and builds to an intense climax in the jagged, pointillist style familiar from much mid-20th-century music, with no discernible folk roots. It would be interesting to hear Chang's music with Chinese instruments.
The Beethoven C-minor quartet, Op. 131, one of his late quartets, is an ultimate test of string quartet playing. It is a gigantic, sprawling, seven-movement work in which the master darts from one idiom to another, from fugue to aria to Hungarian dance. An occasional flatness marred the final minutes. Otherwise, the quartet -- Daniel Stepner and Judith Eissenberg, violins; Mary Ruth Ray, viola; and Joshua Gordon, cello -- played beautifully , never more so than in the opening movement, a slow-motion fugue with suspended harmonies of an almost mystical intensity. Maybe this is as far abroad as one needs to go.