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					THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                                                   Press



                                                           Sunday, December 24, 2006


                                               THE YEAR IN MUSIC
                                                       ANTHONY TOMMASINI



L      OOKING back over the year, I                 Canadian Opera Company in Toronto offered an       looked vibrant and acted with abandon. But what
       tried to compile a list of highs             imaginative production with each opera staged      mattered more was that she sounded vocally
                                                    by a different director, conducted vibrantly by    secure and confident, singing with unforced
       and lows in classical music. But             Richard Bradshaw. But the big news there was       power, shimmering sound and supple phrasing.
call me irresponsible; I simply found               the company’s splendid new home, an inviting,      Imagine this punishing role actually sung, not
too many exciting and meaningful                    sleek and intimate house that seats just 2,000.    shouted.
achievements to dwell on the                                                                           6. This month at Zankel Hall, the French pianist
disappointments. So here are some of                  The Shostakovich centennial                      Pierre-Laurent Aimard brought his staggering
the most memorable events:                                                                             technique, searching intellect and fantastical
                                                     was celebrated by the Emerson                     imagination to a program of 24 études that was
1. On paper a Britten evening may not have
seemed the most daring way for the English
                                                      String Quartet at Alice Tully                    itself an artistic creation. It was fascinating to
tenor Ian Bostridge to begin his Perspectives        Hall and the Alexander String                     hear musical resonances among varied works by
series at Carnegie Hall. But that program, in                                                          Ligeti, Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninoff,
Zankel Hall in March, presented this
                                                          Quartet at the Baruch                        Scriabin, Bartok and Liszt. As a last-minute
adventurous artist in Britten’s mercurial song        Performing Arts Center with                      surprise, Mr. Aimard also played the premiere of
cycle “Winter Words,” on poems by Thomas                                                               an impetuous, finger-twisting piano piece,
Hardy, and in the neglected Canticles, five
                                                        competing cycles of the 15                     “Caténaires,” by Elliott Carter, who was there to
unorthodox works for voices and instruments on            quartets, performed in                       take a bow on his 98th birthday.
texts ranging from Jacobean metaphysical poetry       chronological order. It was a                    7. Happily, the year brought new recordings to
to T. S. Eliot. Mr. Bostridge gave haunting,                                                           assuage a loss. In July the incomparable mezzo-
deeply expressive and keenly intelligent               special privilege to hear the                   soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died at 52.
performances.                                               dynamic Alexander                          Two recordings released this year will enhance
                                                                                                       her legacy while enriching the repertory with
2. The Shostakovich centennial was                       performances in Baruch                        recent works by her husband, Peter Lieberson. A
celebrated by the Emerson String Quartet               College’s intimate 176-seat                     highlight of a Lieberson recording on the Bridge
at Alice Tully Hall and the Alexander                                                                  label is a live 2004 version of his quizzical and
String Quartet at the Baruch Performing              auditorium. Seldom have these                     harmonically spiky “Rilke Songs,” with Ms.
Arts Center with competing cycles of the             anguished, playful, ironic and                    Hunt Lieberson accompanied by the incisive
                                                                                                       pianist Peter Serkin. And just this month
15 quartets, performed in chronological                 masterly works seemed so                       Nonesuch released a live 2005 recording of Mr.
order. It was a special privilege to hear                  profoundly personal.                        Lieberson’s “Neruda Songs,” settings of five
the dynamic Alexander performances in                                                                  love sonnets by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Baruch College’s intimate 176-seat                  4. Peter Gelb, the new general manager of the      This is music of subdued intensity and aching
auditorium. Seldom have these                       Metropolitan Opera, deserves credit for his        beauty, sublimely performed by Ms. Hunt
anguished, playful, ironic and masterly             overdue, energetic and multifaceted public         Lieberson and the Boston Symphony Orchestra,
                                                    outreach efforts. And bringing Anthony             conducted by James Levine.
works seemed so profoundly personal.
                                                    Minghella’s visually arresting, highly stylized    Sadly, there were other notable deaths as well,
3. Two notable new productions of Wagner’s          production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” to      including several legendary women of opera: the
daunting “Ring des Nibelungen” came in close        New York in September was a bold way for Mr.       sopranos Birgit Nilsson, Anna Moffo, Elisabeth
succession. In July, the Bayreuth Festival in       Gelb to inaugurate his tenure.                     Schwarzkopf and Astrid Varnay, as well as the
Germany introduced an engrossingly modern
                                                    5. The dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt had a        supremely gifted, if often chaotic, conductor and
staging by the playwright Tankred Dorst, which
                                                    career milestone at the Lyric Opera of Chicago     stage director Sarah Caldwell. Gyorgy Ligeti, a
presented the gods, dwarfs and mortals as souls
                                                    with her first staged performances of the title    composer who loomed over the last decades of
forgotten by the world who keep trying to relive
                                                    role in Strauss’s “Salome,” beginning in           the 20th century, also died. Together, these
their stories. The production was dominated by
                                                    October. After a long period of adjusting to her   artists gave us countless highs.
the organic, intense and insightful conducting of
Christian Thielemann. Then, in September, the       slimmed-down postsurgical body, Ms. Voigt




Robert Besen, Director | 508 First Street, Suite 4W | Hoboken NJ 07030-7823
T 201-386-8565 | F 201-386-8564 | Robert@BesenArts.com | www.BesenArts.com
THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                                       Press



                                                        Wednesday, May 3, 2006

                                                       CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK
     String Quartets Reveal the Private Shostakovich
By Anthony Tommasini



A
         lmost by default, the string quartet   anguished and dangerously modern at a          with premonitions of death and perhaps
         is the most intimate of musical        time when the Soviet Union’s cultural          thoughts of suicide. In a letter to a friend,
         genres, intended for performance in    police were cracking down on musical           written days after he had finished the work,
intimate spaces. The music is laid out in       expression.                                    he called it an “ideologically deficient
four voices, one instrument per voice, and                                                     quartet that nobody needs” and described it
the string instruments are all of the same         The intimacy of the music                   as his own memorial. The quotations from
sound world. Even when Haydn creates             came through with enhanced                    other works in this score (the Cello Con-
mischief in his string quartets, there is                                                      certo No. 1 and several symphonies) seem a
something tender and wistful about the            power and poignancy in the                   summing up.
humor. And when Bartok goes to the dark          Alexander quartet’s vibrant,                     Shostakovich, who was not a string
side in his quartets, the pulverized, vehe-       probing, assured and aptly                   player, did not compose his first quartet
ment and dissonant music somehow sounds                                                        until 1938, when he was 32. But by his last
confessional.                                       volatile performances.                     decade (he died in 1975, at 68), the genre
    So it’s not surprising that Shostakovich,      Publicly Shostakovich was forced to         was at the center of his output. The last five
the most inscrutable composer of the 20th       write paeans to the state, like the cantata    quartets date from those years.
century, seems at his most revealing in his     “The Sun Shines Over Our Motherland.”             The Alexander String Quartet, based in
15 string quartets. Some commentators are       Privately he wrote these quartets, which       San Francisco, is celebrating its 25th
cautious about seeing these works this way,     were not performed until after Stalin’s        anniversary. The first violinist, the
among them Eric Bromberger, who wrote           death in 1953. The Fifth teems with astrin-    excellent Zakarias Grafilo, joined in 2002.
the excellent program notes for the Alexan-     gent harmonies, bouts of anger, obsessive      The other members are Frederick Lifsitz,
der String Quartet’s survey of the              repetitions and a waltz movement so long-      second violinist; Paul Yarbrough, violist;
Shostakovich quartets. That five-concert        winded and convoluted that you don’t for a     and Sandy Wilson, cellist. They have
series ended on Monday at the Baruch Per-       moment trust its graceful pose.                recorded the works for Foghorn Classics;
forming Arts Center.                               Sometimes the quartets seem revealing       the first volume was recently released, the
    It can be no coincidence that               despite themselves. The Quartet No. 6, in      second is imminent.
Shostakovich wrote 15 symphonies and 15         G, was composed in 1956, during the first         On Monday night the Alexander players
string quartets. But Mr. Bromberger is cor-     month of Shostakovich’s marriage to his        showed understandable signs of fatigue
rect that it oversimplifies things to see the   second wife, a captivating party official.     after their weeklong Shostakovich mara-
symphonies as Shostakovich’s public             His troubled first marriage to Nina Varzar,    thon. Occasionally their concentration
statements and the quartets as his private      a physicist, ended with her death in 1954.     slipped, notably in the tragically elegiac
ones. After all, there are inconsolable pas-    The Sixth Quartet is sunny: the music of a     final work. But the chance to experience all
sages in the symphonies and episodes of         middle-aged man in love with a young           15 quartets played in chronological order
genial Neo-Classicism in the quartets.          wife, it would seem. Yet despite its playful   with such intensity and engrossing
    Yet given the nature of the genre,          character, it is structurally rigorous and     commitment in a perfect chamber music
Shostakovich could not help letting his         elusive. Did Shostakovich subliminally         hall was a privilege.
deepest feelings come out. It goes with the     known better? Within three years the mar-         The Emerson String Quartet, whose
territory. The intimacy of the music came       riage had ended in divorce.                    justly praised recording of the Shostakovich
through with enhanced power and                    The renowned Eighth Quartet, in C           quartets was released six years ago by
poignancy in the Alexander quartet’s            minor, was composed in 1960, when              Deutsche Grammophon, is nearing the
vibrant, probing, assured and aptly volatile    Shostakovich went to Dresden. The city         midpoint of its five-concert survey of the
performances, given in an ideal hall for        was still blighted from the devastating        15 works at Alice Tully Hall, which, at
chamber music that seats just 174.              Allied bombing in 1945. He dedicated this      nearly 1,100 seats, is far too big a space.
    The confessional nature of certain          powerfully bleak work “to the memory of        Still, the Emerson players are immersed in
Shostakovich quartets is impossible to          the victims of fascism and war.”               these works, and their series remains a ma-
ignore. He suppressed the Fourth, in D, and        Yet Laurel Fay, in her acclaimed biogra-    jor event of the season.
the Fifth, in B flat, written in 1949 and       phy of Shostakovich, amasses persuasive           For my part, having heard seven pro-
1952, rightly fearing that the music was too    evidence that he was overcome at the time      grams of Shostakovich quartets on seven
                                                                                               consecutive days, far from feeling drained,
                                                                                               I was transported.



Robert Besen, Director | 508 First Street, Suite 4W | Hoboken NJ 07030-7823
T 201-386-8565 | F 201-386-8564 | Robert@BesenArts.com | www.BesenArts.com
THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                                 Press



                                                     Saturday, April 29, 2006



                                                    CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK

    The Alexander Quartet and the Emerson Quartet
                Perform Shostakovich
By Anthony Tommasini


A
         pparently the coincidence of two    modern auditorium doubles as a lecture        stayed together and worked with integrity
         overlapping Shostakovich string     hall, so there are elevated rows of           for nearly 30 years, the Alexander players
         quartet cycles in New York is       ergonomic seats with ample leg room.          held their own. It’s a curiosity of the
just that, a coincidence.                    But the smallness of the space and its        classical music business that one deserv-
   As part of Lincoln Center’s celebration   vibrant acoustics are the selling points.     ing ensemble garners Grammy Awards,
of the Shostakovich centennial, the             Chamber music, as its name implies,        worldwide fame and standing ovations at
Emerson String Quartet is performing all     was meant to be performed in chamber          New York’s premiere performing arts
15 of his seminal quartets in chronologi-    rooms. Alice Tully Hall, though specifi-      complex, whereas another deserving
cal order in five concerts. The series       cally built for chamber music, seats          ensemble plays before a small, half-filled
began on Thursday night at Alice Tully       nearly 1,100 and feels bigger than that.      hall at a college. (A ticket price of $25,
Hall, and the place was packed.                 Devotees of chamber music have long        $15 for students and or those 65 and
   Across town on Tuesday and Wednes-        adjusted to hearing string quartets and       over, is another inducement; tickets for
day nights, at the Baruch Performing Arts    such played in Alice Tully Hall. On           the Emerson concerts are $60 each.)
Center at Lexington Avenue and East          Thursday night, in the first three works,        The playing of the Emerson Quartet
25th Street, the Alexander String Quartet    the Emerson played with its trademark         may have had more shades of character
presented the first two programs in its      burnished sound, interpretive insight and     and imaginative flights. Yet I was
five-concert survey of the Shostakovich      passion. Still, having just heard this        engrossed by the eerie restraint and, when
string quartets, also offered in chrono-     music performed by the Alexander              called for, incisive attack of the
logical order.                               Quartet, I found the difference               Alexander’s performances. The first
   Though based in San Francisco, the        overwhelming.                                 violinist, Zakarias Grafilo, was especially
Alexander Quartet has been presenting a         At Baruch the vibrations from the low      admirable for his focused and penetrating
short residency each semester at Baruch      strings seemed to travel through the floor    sound.
College for 20 years. When its players       and up your legs. You felt enveloped by          Still,   ranking     these     estimable
realized that their Shostakovich series      the music. At Alice Tully Hall, for all the   ensembles is not the point. Both surveys
would coincide with the Emerson’s, they      intensity of the Emerson’s playing, the       are distinguished. So far, though, the
adjusted one concert date so as not to       sound seemed to come from a distance.         Alexander Quartet, playing in a perfect
conflict.                                    During frenetic passages of Quartet No.       hall for chamber music, provided the
   With all respect to the Emerson String    2, the splattered intonation of Eugene        more visceral experience of Shostako-
Quartet, I must say that it was particu-     Drucker in the first violin part, and the     vich’s most intriguing and personal
larly exciting to hear the first six of      grittiness of the collective sound during     works.
Shostakovich’s elusive and remarkable        some pummeled episodes, which went
string quartets played in the first two      over the edge to coarseness, suggested        The final two programs in the Alexander
programs of the Alexander’s series at        that the musicians were trying to pump        Quartet’s series are tonight and Monday
Baruch.                                      up the music to make an impact in the         night at 8; the Emerson Quartet’s series
   The Alexander has the enormous            large, acoustically dry hall.                 continues tomorrow at 5 p.m., May 4 and
advantage of playing in an ideally              Without taking anything away from          May 11 at 8 p.m., and May 14 at 5 p.m.
intimate hall that seats just 174. This      the superb Emerson musicians, who have




Robert Besen, Director | 508 First Street, Suite 4W | Hoboken NJ 07030-7823
T 201-386-8565 | F 201-386-8564 | Robert@BesenArts.com | www.BesenArts.com
THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                                Press


                         Lawrence Journal-World
                                                 Saturday, September 27, 2008


                    Review: Jazz-classical collaboration pleases
                                Lied Center fans
By Chuck Berg



T      he challenge of melding jazz with
       classical has had a long and
       checkered history. Early on, there
was George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in
Blue” (1923) and similar symphonic jazz
                                            ensemble placed around the Beaux Arts
                                            String Quartet, plus a harp and jazz
                                            drumming great Roy Haynes.
                                               Hailed upon its 1962 release on the
                                            Verve label, “Focus” became, quite
                                                                                            For its part, the exquisite Alexander
                                                                                         injected Sauter’s spiky yet flowing
                                                                                         tapestries with unerring jazz-inflected
                                                                                         phrasings and dynamics.
                                                                                            Throughout, and in particular during
experiments.     Regardless     of   how    unexpectedly, a hit recording. The           the turbo-charged “Night Rider” and “I’m
appealing, there was just one problem.      combination of Getz’s quintessential         Late,” violinists Zakarias Grafilo and
Such standards of today’s orchestral pops   lyricism and Sauter’s lush yet also          Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul Yarbrough
repertory lacked improvisation.             harmonically and rhythmically astringent     and cellist Sandy Wilson sounded as if
   Following World War II, with             writing captured ears, hearts and            they had lived with Marsalis’s impro-
increasing numbers of serious musicians     imaginations.                                vised interpretations forever. In fact, this
experienced in both jazz and classical         Due to the daunting heights of the        was their first ever performance of
looking to artistically bridge the gap,     Getz-Sauter collaboration, “Focus” has       “Focus” with Marsalis. Amazing!
“third stream” was coined for genuinely     lived almost entirely through the seminal       Paving the way for “Focus” was a
new amalgams of improvisation and           Verve recording.                             stunning set of excerpts from Maurice
through-written composition. Here one          Its resurrection by Marsalis and the      Ravel, Terry Riley and Wayne Peters by
found the still absorbing third-stream      Alexander was therefore audacious. On        the Alexander incorporating jazz-nuanced
confluences by Ralph Burns, Stan            Friday, the standing ovations and cheers     elements also deployed by Sauter. In the
Kenton, J.J. Johnson, Bill Russo and        signaled that Marsalis and friends had       second set, Marsalis and all-star band-
Gunther Schuller.                           made “Focus” its own.                        mates bassist Eric Revis and drummer
   On Friday night, taking a cue from the      Marsalis, after stints as leader of Jay   Jeff “Tain” Watts, dug deep on two
Lied Center’s seasonal promotion of         Leno’s “Tonight Show Band” and with          originals, the contemplative “The
“jazz and classical music crossroads,” an   Sting, has become one of our brightest       Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born” and
enthusiastic, 1,000-plus audience came to   and most committed jazz players. In the      earthy “Bluetain.”
check out the third-stream for itself in    six-part “Focus,” his tenor saxophone           It was a stunning night. One hopes that
Branford Marsalis Trio and the              sailed across the registers, fleshing out    the Marsalis-Alexander version of
Alexander String Quartet.                   tenderly wrought out sub-tones and reedy     Sauter’s “Focus” will soon be recorded to
   The performers had found the perfect     punctuations at the bottom, while in the     complement and therefore enlarge our
vehicle, composer Eddie Sauter’s still      middle and top registers “singing” with a    appreciation of Getz’s iconic treatment
breathtaking “Focus” (1961), a six-part     soaring blues-tinged lyricism that brought   and, indeed, the third-stream itself.
suite written for tenor saxophone giant     sections such as “I Remember When” to
Stan Getz, with an enlarged string          vibrantly pulsing and poignant life.




Robert Besen, Director | 508 First Street, Suite 4W | Hoboken NJ 07030-7823
T 201-386-8565 | F 201-386-8564 | Robert@BesenArts.com | www.BesenArts.com
THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                     Press


                            Albuquerque Journal
                                                 Monday, September 22, 2008


                              Chamber Music Albuquerque
                 By D.S. Crafts



                 O
                           pening its sixty-eighth season,           The Second Quartet is not often played,
                           Chamber Music Albuquerque              but the Alexanders make as impressive
                           demonstrates once again it can         case for the work as I have yet heard. The
                 bring the very best performers to New            signature feature of all four movements is
                 Mexico. The Alexander String Quartet,            a driving intensity bordering on the manic.
                 with a string of prestigious recordings to       It’s almost as if the composer is taking out
                 its name, took the stage of the Simms            his anger and frustration on the music, and
                 Center for the Performing Arts Sunday            the ensemble held nothing back in that
                 afternoon for a program of Mozart,               regard. The first movement, Overture:
                 Shostakovich and Riley.                          Moderato con moto, opens with a phrase
                    Having recorded the entire Beethoven          that might easily be mistaken for Bartok
                 and Shostakovich Quartets, the group             with its Hungarian rhythm. The slow
                 displays a remarkable zeal in interpre-          second movement might be accurately
                 tation coupled with a hearty opulence of         described as an accompanied cadenza
                 tone in everything it plays.                     featuring the warm, impassioned playing
                    The concert began with Mozart’s so-           of first violinist Zakarias Grafilo. The
                 called “Hunt” Quartet in B-flat major, one       lugubrious waltz begins softly in the cello
                 of six quartets he dedicated to Haydn. The       (Sandy Wilson) with the remainder of the
                 opening phrase suggested to some of its          group eventually building to an almost
                 early listeners the sound of a hunting           horrific climax before settling back to the
                 horn. Given the robust rendition by the          bleak spirit of the opening. Violist Paul
                 Alexanders, one could easily picture             Yarbrough introduced the unmistakably
                 galloping horses across the Austrian             Russian theme of the final movement
                 countryside. The Menuetto had a bounce           before the group put it through four high
                 to it, full of gaiety and joviality just short   pitch variations.
                 of carefree. They took the slow Adagio a            Sandwiched between these two pieces
                 tad faster than I have heard it before, but      was the Mythic Birds Waltz by Terry
                 never losing any of the detail.                  Riley—“Waltz” being used purely as
                 Consequently, the final Allegro assai was        metaphor. Riley is often referred to as the
                 necessarily brisk with a cumulative energy       originator of musical minimalism (a
                 driving the music to a most satisfying           dubious distinction). He has moved on
                 conclusion.                                      from that style—-sort of—-but not before
                    The Quartet No. 2 by Dmitri Shosta-           the damage was done.
                 kovich was written in 1944 in the midst of          Written for himself and a sitar player,
                 the Second World War, during which he            the work vacillates between passages of
                 had already composed two symphonies.             rhythmic acceleration (the most effective
                 Former radio commentator Dan Haik                bits) and slower sections. Certainly the
                 remarked to me, “It’s Shostakovich’s             piece had the benefit of what was
                 cheeriest quartet,” a comment both quin-         seemingly an exemplary performance.
                 tessentially ironic as well as completely
                 true in comparison to its thirteen siblings.




Robert Besen, Director | 508 First Street, Suite 4W | Hoboken NJ 07030-7823
T 201-386-8565 | F 201-386-8564 | Robert@BesenArts.com | www.BesenArts.com
THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                   Press




                                                  Wednesday, May 3, 2006


                         Double tribute breaks new ground

                 By Herman Trotter



                 A
                          nniversary tributes to composers      extraordinary that it deserves special
                          always are well intended, but         commentary.
                          often more politically correct than      The work, written during and after
                 enlightening.                                  World War II, is full of the angst of war
                    In observing the 250th birth anniver-       and communist oppression, all of which
                 sary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and            apply equally to our presently troubled
                 the 100th of Dmitri Shostakovich, the          world. The opening theme is deceptively
                 Alexander Quartet came up with a               whimsical, even flip. But in the following
                 formula and a transcendent performance         skewed waltz movement, a dissolute
                 that really broke some new ground.             quality permeates the music with eerie,
                    The group opened with an adagio             groping spiccato pianissimo figures, while
                 movement from the 14-year-old Mozart’s         the stabbing attacks of the following
                 Quartet No. 1, K. 80, full of light, but       movement were executed with superb
                 probing lyricism, then presented the first     precision and the unexpected sudden
                 Buffalo performance of Mozart’s tran-          cutoff at the end took many listeners’
                 scription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in       breath away.
                 E flat from Book II of the Well-Tempered          The following adagio was wonderfully
                 Clavier, somber but structurally trans-        biting and introspective, while the con-
                 parent.                                        cluding movement recapitulated the
                    A performance of Mozart’s Quartet in        work’s tensions and some of its early
                 C, K. 465, called the “Dissonant” Quartet,     innocence before ending in sardonic,
                 completed the Mozart tribute with a            ghostly quietude that, again, had the entire
                 performance that balanced seriousness of       audience holding its breath.
                 intent with a lightness of texture, all of        The Alexander musicians were so in
                 which imbued the music with a luminous         control of the music’s emotional contours
                 clarity.                                       and lurches, and so spiritually attuned to
                    Shostakovich paid tribute to Bach with      Shostakovich’s message that they seemed
                 24 preludes and fugues for piano, and the      not so much to be playing the music as
                 Shostakovich tribute opened with No. 15        breathing it.
                 in D flat minor, full of folk-like lilt and       The Russian writer Ilya Ehrenberg once
                 saw-toothed angularity.                        said: “Music has the great advantage of
                    Forgive the brevity, but I must confess     being able to tell everything without
                 that the performance of the concluding         mentioning anything.” This was one of
                 Shostakovich Quartet No. 3 was so              those performances.




Robert Besen, Director | 508 First Street, Suite 4W | Hoboken NJ 07030-7823
T 201-386-8565 | F 201-386-8564 | Robert@BesenArts.com | www.BesenArts.com
THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                                      Press




                                                     Wednesday, April 26, 2006



                           The Septuagenarian and the Educator

By Fred Kirshnit



T
        he String Quartet No. 2 of Leos       later performed the entire work, the            of the one offered by the Pacifica Quartet
        Janacek has acquired an extramu-      Alexander Quartet, supplemented the             at Alice Tully Hall last Wednesday. Not
        sical life in recent years. Now a     lecture by sharing individual passages.         better nor worse, mind you, but thor-
favorite subject for social historians and    This is a particularly effective and            oughly different.
psychologists, it often appears in            winning formula.                                   Where the younger Pacifica players
programs wherein the management has              A show of hands indicated that almost        exaggerated the ponticello effects - that
assumed that an entire evening of music       all the audience members were unfamiliar        is, bowing near the bridge — the
will not be enough to hold an audience’s      with the piece, but none of them can now        Alexander group did a more polished job
attention.                                    make this claim. Mr. Kapilow is a born          of integrating them into the work as a
   Thus this passionate ode written by a      educator. An enthusiastic and diminutive        whole. Where the Pacifica was exuberant,
man of 74 to the 36-year-old object of his    fellow, he is especially adept at physi-        the Alexander was measured. Consider-
desire (whom he met when she was 25) is       cally following the music around the            ing that this piece is all about age differ-
combined with readings of their epistles,     quartet, making it instantly intelligible for   ence, this contrast was especially rele-
or else becomes fodder for thespian pres-     the uninitiated. He is also able to discuss     vant.
entations. Apparently, Janacek’s subter-      music on two simultaneous levels, thus             The Alexander has a big sound that
fuge in changing the name of the piece        satisfying neophytes and sophisticates          would be perfect for Beethoven. But
from “Love Letters” to “Intimate Letters”     alike. In this lecture, he adroitly explored    Janacek requires more delicacy, less
was not enough to quench the public’s         Janacek’s colorful ability to move from         bombast. Eloquent understatement was
interest in its subtext.                      the diatonic to the pentatonic, but assured     missing in both recent performances.
   Kamila Stoesslova was indeed an            those in the audience who may not be            Still, this was a solid effort.
exotic beauty — Jewish, dark, with a hint     conversant with these terms that all they          The Alexander players expertly gave
of the Gypsy — and the composer of this       really needed to do was “get it in their        the erratic dances of the final missive just
white-hot music takes only seconds to         ear.”                                           the right sense of being offkilter. It is this
introduce her in the viola part, which           I was particularly intrigued with Mr.        rhythmic awkwardness that leads to the
employs a recognizable Romany scale.          Kapilow’s distinction between “together”        final thoughts of death, of being out of
The exoticism of the work as a whole          and “at the same time,” an extremely            sync with the universe. This is extremely
owes its spicy flavor to the flutterings of   important, though overlooked, musical           difficult music to pull off, but the
the septuagenarian’s heart at a time when     concept. The ending of the second letter’s      Alexander ensemble rallied for a thrilling
he was obsessed with thoughts of aging.       Vivace section, enunciated by the quartet,      conclusion. And we all knew it because
As a statement of yearning, it rivals the     was a perfect example of how players not        we had just learned about the piece’s
steamiest efforts of Franck or Wagner.        performing together can be a positive           nuances.
   The piece was the subject of Rob           trait.                                             I would love to attend a lecture by Rob
Kapilow’s lecture at the Walter Reade            After intermission, the quartet              Kapilow about a piece I do not like. I
Theater on Monday evening. As in other        (Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz,        have the distinct feeling that I would
installments of his What Makes It Great       violins; Paul Yarbrough, viola; Sandy           come away with a newfound and
series, Mr. Kapilow discussed this piece      Wilson, cello) performed the entire piece       delighted appreciation.
of music and offered examples for his         straight through.
arguments at the piano. The group that           This rendition was the polar opposite




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                   Press



                                          Sunday, June 27, 2004




                        Mozart: The “Haydn Quartets”
                          Alexander String Quartet
                                  Foghorn Classics (3 CDs)

                                            By Joshua Kosman
                                           CHRONICLE MUSIC CRITIC
                                               ——————




                               T
                                       he Alexander String Quartet, San
                                       Francisco’s purveyor of vibrant
                                       classicism and gritty contemporary
                               music alike, continues to make splendid
                               records. The group’s fine new release, a
                               wise and expansive account of Mozart’s six
                               string quartets dedicated to Haydn, makes
                               clear what a mistake it would be to overlook
                               their efforts. The performances are lithe,
                               witty, and full of elegant touches both large
                               and small; they boast a crisp, well-recorded
                               sound that brings the listener into intimate
                               contact with the players; and they
                               encompass both the plain-spoken eloquence
                               and sometimes hard-won intricacy of
                               Mozart’s most consistent achievement in the
                               genre. From the winsome vitality of the
                               opening G-Major Quartet, K. 387, to the
                               shadowy contrapuntal effects of the final
                               “Dissonant” Quartet, the Alexanders bring a
                               spirit of fervor and alertness to each piece.




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                           Press


                                              The Strad
                                                     October 2004

                                                 REVIEWS: CDS


       Renascence
       Bartók String Quartet no. 6
       Ravel String Quartet in F major
       Bach (arr. Mozart) Fugue no. 7 in E-flat major BWV 876

       Alexander String Quartet
       FOGHORN CLASSICS CD1984 www.foghornclassics.com

       This may seem on the face of it an odd combina-         in the Schumannesque dotted march rhythms of
       tion of pieces, although in the sleeve notes Eric       the second movement. Indeed such is the group’s
       Bromberger goes some way towards justifying it,         combined intensity and concentration that such
       explaining that it’s all to do with various forms of    passages sound utterly inevitable.
       regeneration — the album’s title is Renascence.              Nevertheless, there is a whiff of tonal
       Accordingly, Bartók develops the original Mesto         sophistication and lack of earthiness that some
       Introduction to his Sixth Quartet’s finale into an      Bartók admirers may feel leaves the darker
       entire movement; Ravel creates his quartet              aspects of the score understated. It is this quality,
       cyclically out of two basic melodic shapes which        however, that makes the Alexander’s Ravel so
       metamorphose in various different ways; and the         utterly compelling. Without upsetting the Classical
       Bach fugue is all about revisiting a central idea       purity that lies at the heart of this glorious work,
       constantly replenished by changes in contrapuntal       the players radiate as much affectionate warmth
       context.                                                as the music will take, bolstered by an exception-
             One of the main problems with the Bartók is its   ally full and vivid recording. For the Bach fugue
       frequent use of textures and rhythmic profiles that     they create a viol-like, almost vibratoless sound
       wouldn’t sound out of place in, say, Mendelssohn.       world of noble restraint.
       It is a measure of the Alexander Quartet’s success
       that it avoids any hint of ‘wrong-note’ music, even     —Julian Haylock




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                               Press




                                              Monday, April 26, 2004



         Meridian Arts Ensemble, Alexander String Quartet

                 W
                            hile the Alexander String         “Beyond the Curve.” The group knows
                            Quartet and the Meridian Arts     how to turn up the volume, and the hall
                            Ensemble gave fine perform-       shook with exuberant sound of Frank
                 ances in their own right Saturday night at   Zappa “Echidna’s Arf.”
                 Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of           The Alexander String Quartet worked
                 Congress, there was no real connection       on a much more narrow and focused
                 between the two halves of the program        canvas, deploying a laserlike precision to
                 except in showing the extremes within the    render more inwardly drawn works.
                 chamber music repertoire.                       After the spiky sound of Stravinsky’s
                    The Meridian Arts Ensemble, a brass       Three Pieces for String Quartet, the
                 and percussion sextet, brought an            quartet gave a pulsing reading of Shostak-
                 alternately jazzy, rock-inspired and         ovich’s String Quartet in F-sharp Minor,
                 modernist sound to David Sanford’s           Op. 108. Beethoven’s String Quartet in F,
                 “Corpus,” a carefully constructed work       Op. 135, slipped into an ethereal world
                 that places a serious chorale melody         about as far from the previous in-your-
                 within various musical climates. The         face brass works as you could possibly
                 Meridian deployed an impressive array of     imagine.
                 effects and subtle variations in tempo,
                 color and rhythm in Elliott Sharp’s          —Daniel Ginsberg




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                   Press



                            The Virginia Gazette
                                           Saturday, November 20, 2004



                       Beautiful music from string quartet
                    The Chamber Music Society of              its beautifully blended sound to its evenly
                 Williamsburg presents the Alexander          distributed talent to it interpretative skill,
                 String Quartet, with Zakarias Grafilo        the ensemble displayed musical sensitivity
                 and Frederick Lifsitz, violin; Paul          and savvy.
                 Yarbrough, viola; and Sandy Wilson,             While occasional post performance
                 cello; in the Mozart String Quartet in E-
                                                              comment was heard concerning the
                 flat Major, K. 428; Shostakovich String
                 Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp Minor; and          compatibility of the works presented, the
                 Brahms String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat        talent of the Alexander brought to each
                 Major; in the Williamsburg Library Arts      was never in dispute.
                 Center Theater, November 9.                     To the Mozart, the foursome brought
                                                              nuance and heightened coordination and
                                                              interpretation that made the work’s mostly
                   T   he Alexander String Quartet            cheerful nature feel sunny and bright. Of
                 continued the Chamber Music Society’s        similar nature was the Brahms, written
                 current season with a finely played          during one of his happier periods.
                 program that allowed the group to display    Largely relying on folk-inspired idioms,
                 its markedly mature sound and musician-      the work was played with brilliance and
                 ship.                                        concentration that impressed.
                    The Alexander appeared here in 1994          However, the work that remains in
                 and, with the exception of the principal     memory as the focal point of the affair
                 violin, has maintained the same mem-         was the Shostakovich, with its distinctive
                 bership, including the violist and cellist   plaintive lines and moods. While only 11
                 who founded the ensemble in 1981. So,        minutes long, the musical minutes were
                 the Alexander approaches its music-          mesmerizing, most particularly in the
                 making with expected maturity and            combination of strings and haunting
                 cohesion that come with time and             sounds, not to mention the meticulous
                 constancy.                                   care and interpretive depths the Alexander
                    As the Alexander launched into the        provided this finely etched and emo-
                 opening Mozart, it was quickly evident       tionally appealing selection.
                 that the group is superbly matched. From     —John Shulson




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                                    Press



                                          The News-Gazette
                                                   Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

                                                    Saturday, October 4, 2003

       Alexander Quartet provides memorable musical evening
By JOHN FRAYNE


O
        ld friends, with one new face,         alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were given       apparently intended to kill himself
        came back to the Foellinger Great      out in the lobby, and, taking the wine into   afterward. In the event, he joined the
        Hall on Wednesday night for a          the hail, we toasted, with Michael Ross       party instead. Ironies abound.
long evening of distinguished, serious,        and the Alexanders, the health of                The Alexanders played the slow
but thoroughly enjoyable chamber music.        chamber music.                                beginning with great feeling and the
   The Alexander Quartet has been here            The program might be irreverently          violent and hysterical middle movements
before, offering throughout the 2001-          described as a “Beethoven Sandwich,”          with dervish-like abandon. The tragic and
2002 season a complete cycle of                two Beethoven quartets with a                 resigned closing pages were played with
Beethoven’s Quartets, capping the season       Shostakovich quartet as filling. The          deep empathy, and long seconds followed
with the premiere of “Rise Chanting” by        evening began with the Second Quartet         the final notes before applause erupted.
Augusta Read Thomas. This time they            of the famous three “Razumovsky”                 Saving the best wine (or champagne)
came with a new first violinist, Zakarias      Quartets, a group which is one of the         for the last was the subtext of this
Grafilo, whose education and training are      crowning achievements of Beethoven’s          concert. The playing of the “Razumovsky
centered on the San Francisco area,            middle period. This work is the longest of    No. 3,” Beethoven’s Ninth Quartet, was a
where the quartet has a home base.             the triad and, in the opinion of some         triumph. This is a wonderful work, full of
Grafilo balances the geography of the,         critics, the most serious and perhaps         boundless energy and opportunities for a
group; second violinist Frederick Lifsitz      “problematic.”                                first-rate quartet to demonstrate their
is from Boston, Paul Yarbrough, viola, is         The fresh and lyrical playing of           ensemble virtuosity. The Alexander
from Florida, and Sandy Wilson, cello, is      Grafilo was obvious from the start. This      Quartet rose to the occasion with
from England.                                  group evidently knows the music               superbly eloquent playing. Let me single
   During the pre-concert talk by the          intimately, and plays it with intensity and   out Sandy Wilson’s pizzicato playing in
quartet, Grafilo’s “fitting in” to the group   deep sympathy. This quartet made a good       the slow movement.
during the last 15 months was the main         opener, but more exciting fare was to            In the finale, Grafilo’s virtuoso playing
topic. He has faced many challenges:           come.                                         was matched by frenzied playing by the
learning all the Shostakovich quartets            The Shostakovich Quartet has that          rest of the quartet. Beethoven, with all his
and, in all, adding between 40 to 50           which many quartets have not, an              seriousness, knew how to work au
quartets to his repertory. Judging by the      exciting and fascinating origin and           audience. Waves of applause followed,
performances last night, the quartet made      setting. The composer wrote it in 1960 in     and the quartet returned, wearing blue
the right choice in getting Grafilo. He is a   Dresden, amid evidences of the                baseball caps. Lifsitz said the caps were
fine violinist, with a clear attractive tone   firebombing of 1945, and dedicated it “to     gifts from the students of University High
and virtuosity to spare for the show           the victims of fascism and war.” It           School, where quartet members had been
passages for the first violin.                 seemed to be intended as an equivalent to     guests during their visit. After removing
   The Alexander Quartet has been              Strauss’ tone poem, “A Hero’s Life.” It is    the hats, the quartet played as encore an
around for 23 years, and Yarbrough and         full of references to Shostakovich’s          E-flat fugue from Bach’s “Well-
Wilson have been with the group from           previous works, and its first theme is a      Tempered Clavier,” arranged by none
the start. Another example of year-            musical equivalent, in German musical         other than Mozart. In its dignified and
counting opened the evening. This is the       notation, of four letters of his name:        graceful beauty, it was the perfect ending
25th anniversary of the organization           “DSCH.” The most striking detail is that      to a memorable evening.
Chamber Music America. Small plastic           he, faced with the dilemma of whether to
glasses of champagne (with a choice of         join the Soviet Communist Party,




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                               Press




                                           Wednesday, December 6, 2000



           Alexander String Quartet Shows
                Confident Versatility
                                            Music Review
                 By JOSEF WOODARD
                 SPECIAL TO THE TIMES



                 O
                          n Monday at Cal State Northridge,    featured   a    thoroughly   Modernist
                          in the first of three performances   countenance.   The players relished the
                          in the Music Guild chamber music
                 series, the Alexander String Quartet                 This is a group
                 served up a solid, well-rounded feast of
                 works by the three masters of the quartet
                                                                   deep in its element,
                 form spanning three centuries — Haydn,             firm in its stride.
                 Beethoven and Bartók. They brought to
                 each composer’s work a requisite distinct     hushed, coiled enigma of its second
                 character.                                    movement, the brusque whimsy of its
                    The San Francisco-based Alexander,         pizzicato adventures, and its overall
                 formed in 1981, is making a return            structural blend of care and abandon.
                 engagement with the Music Guild, and for         The Alexander is also well up on
                 good reason. This is a group deep in its      Beethoven, having recorded the complete
                 element, firm in its stride.                  quartets for a nine-CD set last year. Its
                    Haydn’s Quartet in C, the “Emperor,”       take on the Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132,
                 with its slow movement familiar after-the-    was engaging and richly understood.
                 fact as the German national anthem,           They seemed to comprehend that the heart
                 emerged here as a model of gentility.         of the work is the emotional third
                 Next up, Bartók’s masterful Fourth            movement, a hymn to recuperation after
                 Quartet — a piece that tends to steal the     one of Beethoven’s bouts of illness.
                 show when it is this well-played —




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                       Press




                                              Thursday, March 2, 2000



            Alexander String Quartet
            Yielding Greater Riches
            Dramatic, thoughtful program of late works at Herbst
                          By Joshua Kosman                     ever-greater technical mastery on the styles
                        CHRONICLE MUSIC CRITIC                 and strategies of his youth, and the ensemble
                            ——————                             — which spent last year performing all 16 of


            T
                   he Alexander String Quartet has been a      the Beethoven quartets — delivered it with
                   fixture on the Bay Area scene for so        fleet brilliance and an apt sense of rhythmic
                   long now that it becomes all too easy to    freedom, especially in the outer movements.
            take the group for granted. Tuesday’s superb          The slow movement, though, was the crown
            recital in Herbst Theatre served as a cautionary   of this performance, its densely woven chords
            reminder not to make that mistake.                 and long-breathed melodies rendered with
               Since 1989, the Alexanders — violinists         sumptuous allure.
            Ge-Fang Yang and Frederick Lifsitz, violist
            Paul Yarbrough and cellist Sandy Wilson —                      Impassioned Janacek
            have been quartet-in-residence with both San          Janacek’s Second Quartet, subtitled “Inti-
            Francisco Performances (presenter of Tues-         mate Letters,” is a protestation of love, like
            day’s concert) and San Francisco State Uni-        nearly everything he wrote in the last decades
            versity.                                           of his life. In the gnarly, impassioned writing
               During that time, the adventurousness and       of this remarkable score, brought to sinewy
            youthful vigor that marked the group’s early       life by the Alexander Quartet, it’s impossible
            performances seem to have been supplemented        to miss the force of the composer’s astonishing
            by a richer and more dark-hued ensemble            infatuation with the young Kamila Stosslova.
            sound, as well as greater interpretive clarity.       The evening’s most impressive music-mak-
            The results were both thoughtful and dramatic.     ing, though, came after intermission, with the
                                                               group’s vibrant and thrillingly cogent per-
                             Final Quartets                    formance of Mendelssohn’s F-Minor String
               For this event, the group offered an inter-     Quartet.
            esting program that featured the final quartets       Written during the few months between the
            of Beethoven, Janacek and Mendelssohn.             sudden death of his beloved sister Fanny and
            These are all late works, naturally, but they      his own death (of grief, more or less), this is a
            show their composers reacting differently to       dark elegy in all but name. The group’s play-
            the gathering twilight.                            ing caught the music’s air of desolation in the
               Beethoven’s F-Major Quartet, Op. 135, for       wild, driven tremolos of the first movement
            all its existential baggage and the radiant ex-    and the breathless rush of the finale.
            pansiveness of the hymnlike slow movement,            As an encore, the group gave a bright-hued
            faces the end with relative equanimity. Here is    account of the fourth movement from Beetho-
            the composer looking back with clear eyes and      ven’s Op. 130.




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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                       Press




                                                  Monday, June 3, 2002

                                   Alexander String Quartet
                 By JAN JEZIORO


                 T
                         he Alexander String Quartet gave        the transitions among the various instru-
                         the last of its three concerts in the   ments hindered the conversational tone.
                         Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle at            The Lento was beautifully played, with
                 the University at Buffalo on Saturday           the perfectly sculptured phrasing creating
                 evening.                                        a sense of enveloping solemnity. The
                    The members of the Alexander Quartet         Alexander demonstrated a remarkable
                 — first violinist Ge-Fang Yang, second          ability to sustain a long, slow line, both
                 violinist Frederick Lifsitz, violist Paul       here and in Thursday’s performance of the
                 Yarbrough and cellist Sandy Wilson —            Op. 132.
                 presented an evening of performances that          The final movement, with its famous
                 fully justified the group’s national reputa-    questioning phrase “Must it be?” was
                 tion.                                           played with the necessary sense of
                                                                 inevitability that Beethoven’s ringing, af-
                     The Alexander String                        firmative answer, both to the question,
                      Quartet rolled over                        and to the contradictions of the human
                  Beethoven, rounding out a                      condition, “It must be!” demands. The
                                                                 program notes correctly identified the
                   three-day run of the Slee                     motto’s origin as being in a joke about an
                  Beethoven Quartet Cycle in                     unpaid bill. However, the profound
                     Slee Hall on Sunday.                        meaning that Beethoven later gave to the
                                                                 exchange, in a letter to a friend, tends to
                    The Alexander nicely sustained the           justify the traditional interpretation.
                 necessary dramatic tension in the throb-           The opening Allegro of the Op. 59, No.
                 bing, dark-toned opening movement, of           2, was played with a flowing, singing
                 the Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4,          quality that neatly captured the shifting
                 playing with a warm vibrancy. A finely          rhythms. The players worked their slow
                 judged pace contributed a contrasting           movement magic again in the Adagio,
                 sense of restraint in the polyphonic            generating great warmth of feeling, along
                 Scherzo, while the highlight of the             with genuine intensity. A firmly vigorous
                 Menuetto was the eloquently played              approach to the quirky theme of the
                 dialogue between viola and cello in the         Allegretto built excitement, but the
                 trio section. Both violinists sparkled in       treatment of the Russian song in the
                 the final rondo, which ended with a             middle section felt somewhat rushed.
                 furiously paced flourish.                          With his brilliant tone, the first violinist
                    The opening movement of Beethoven’s          led the way in a highly animated treatment
                 last quartet, the Op. 135, had an agreeably     of the final Presto, with the exciting finish
                 tentative start, but a certain hesitancy in     bringing the audience to its feet.




Robert Besen, Director | 508 First Street, Suite 4W | Hoboken NJ 07030-7823
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THE ALEXANDER STRING QUARTET                                                                                                  Press




                                                   Thursday, May 27, 1999



 Audience chooses well for string quartet
         By R.M. CAMPBELL                        Seattle is not the first town where the        The Alexander’s overall approach is
            P-I MUSIC CRITIC                 quartet has polled its audience to arrive at    cohesive, supple, articulate and its tone
                                             a program. Last month in Los Angeles,           clear. There is impressive refinement of
   At first it seemed a gimmick to attract   the audience chose almost the same quar-        detail and balance among the four, al-
attention: Alexander String Quartet’s re-    tets as Seattle: B-flat Quartet (Op. 18,        though first violinist Ge-Fang Yang has
quest from its future Meany Hall audi-       No. 6), E-flat Quartet (Op. 74) and C-          the brightest tone. He also went off pitch
ence to choose its program.                  sharp Minor Quartet (Op. 131). The dif-         the most. The four seemed to have no
   However, the quartet set some imme-       ference was in the middle period, where         trouble in adjusting between delicious
diate restrictions. The concert was all-     Los Angeles opted for one of the Opus 59        exuberance and gravity.
Beethoven and the choice of three works      quartets.                                          The B-flat Quartet (Op. 18, No. 6),
had to come from his early, middle and           Even if the Beethoven popularity vote       subtitled “La Malinconia,” opened the
late periods. The polling was done by        by the Meany audience was a stunt, the          concert in a bright, forward fashion.
mail in advance of the concert, held         program was vital and appealing.                Melancholy was rarely heard in this
Tuesday night. Most subscribers didn’t           This is an excellent ensemble particu-      cheerful piece: Even the Adagio, marked
bother to respond, but nearly 140 did, and   larly noted for its extraordinary sense of      “La Malinconia,” seemed only an inter-
they made choices that proved to make an     ensemble. Rarely do quartets possess            ruption in the good times. The E-flat
eminently satisfying program.                such unanimity in attack, timbre and mu-        Quartet (Op. 74), subtitled the “Harp,”
   Founded in 1981, the quartet began its    sicality. The ups and downs of every            was also rather merry in the main, with a
life winning competitions and made a         phrase were carefully weighed and meas-         handsome Adagio as the centerpiece.
name for itself in the United States and     ured, then delivered without any seeming           As the representative of the late quar-
Europe. Most quartets do not have all 16     loss of spontaneity. Whatever disagree-         tets, the C-Sharp Minor (Op. 131) was
Beethoven’s quartets in performance          ments may exist among the four men are          almost as much as one could expect. The
readiness, but the Alexander had pre-        ironed out in rehearsal, not performance.       reading had eloquence, beauty, pathos,
pared them this season for a complete        It is not surprising to learn the quartet has   even innocence, as Richard Wagner once
cycle in New York and San Francisco,         a link to the Tokyo String Quartet, an-         remarked about the piece.
where the quartet is based.                  other ensemble known for its precision.




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