International harvesters

Reviewing the Orion String Quartet and David Krakauer.
Boston Globe, April 20, 2009.

This one really had to get trimmed for space. So here’s the deal: click on the link to boost the Globe‘s traffic—they’re nice enough to keep employing me, after all—then come back and compare with this slightly more garrulous version:

Nationalism once removed was on the docket for the Orion String Quartet for their Celebrity Series concert on Sunday: composers annexing exogenous traditions to their own musical dominions. Joined by the superb, pan-stylistic clarinetist David Krakauer, the group similarly captured each disparate piece within their own dramatic orbit.

The quartet opened with Hugo Wolf’s brisk, sunny “Italian Serenade.” The players—brothers Todd and Daniel Phillips on violin, violist Steven Tenenbom, and cellist Timothy Eddy—converged on the same dark, focused tone and firm-edged bowing. The resulting energetic reading seemed to overlay the music’s good time with a deliberate determination to have it.

Excess succeeds in David Del Tredici’s 2006 “Maygar Madness,” commissioned for Krakauer and the Orion Quartet by a consortium of presenters (including Celebrity Series). Del Tredici’s trademark neo-Romanticism nearly forgoes the prefix—four-fifths of the piece would fit the Brahmsian aesthetic of Boston a century ago—and the music’s titular Hungarian color has the authenticity of a Gypsy-themed Hollywood production number.

But that is the unashamed point of the work’s thronged expanse, in which any notion good enough for two bars is good enough for eight. As in much of Del Tredici’s music, the extra innings run longer than the original game; one’s pleasure shifts from formal apprehension to a compounding disport in the parade of ideas coming to the plate. The ensemble maintained conviction throughout: Krakauer’s valiant navigation of a frequently high-flying part, the quartet’s unflagging ardor. The composer was on dapper hand for a number of curtain calls.

Osvaldo Golijov’s 1994 “K’vakarat,” by contrast, generates power through concentration. Originally for cantor and strings, the transcription of Ashkenazic chant for clarinet lends the somber prayer a poignant, klezmer-infused vernacular overlay; the quartet’s full-throttle intensity, scintillation rising to eloquent fury, was equal to the music’s explosive emotions.

Beethoven closed the program: the second of the opus 59 “Razumovsky” quartets, the ruminative and voluble E-minor, complete with its own mischievously obsessive quotation of a Russian tune. The group adopted a vigorous precision (more vigorous than precise in the finale) that gave due heft to the music’s symphonic ambitions.

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