Spokane String Quartet Tuesday, March 11, The Met
At The Met Tuesday, the Spokane String Quartet performed as well as a group as I have heard them. They dug in deep for a diverse program that included music by Beethoven, Smetana and David Jones.
I was looking forward to the premiere of Jones’ String Quartet No. 4 as the most compellingly interesting work on the program and was not disappointed. As promised, the five-movement piece had moments of tipping the hat to Bartok and Berg without becoming a carbon copy.
Yes, there was some intense dissonance, but it was mostly a lush feel rather than a harsh sound. Jones did not sustain the grating angst of, say, Shostakovich, but served up a lonely melancholia with some blues overtones.
The odd-numbered movements, the slow ones, were the main vehicles of melancholy. The first and last generated a mood of expectant wonder or mystery, while the third spotlighted the cello for a soliloquy with an improvisational feel.
The second and fourth movements had dance overtones. The second was more of an active adventure, while the fourth, proclaimed a tango and jumbled the elements in an elusive way that teased the mind with off-kilter flickers of motion.
The Spokane String Quartet wrapped the Jones in a good pairing - the Beethoven Op. 18, No. 6 and the Smetana Quartet No. 1. “La Malinconia” and “From My Life” were both written by musicians plagued by deafness and both works have some big mood swings. In the Beethoven, the SSQ rang through with driven energy in the appropriate bits and were suitably dark and intense during the “Melancholy” section.
The SSQ had powers to soothe the savage in the Smetana. During the third movement love song, the young couple in front of us leaned their heads together as if they were alone and the quartet had transformed into a crackling fire. The humor in the second movement’s drinking song was played to the hilt. John Marshall’s cello belched out of time during the chorus, and during his swaggering solo the upper voices swooned.
In the Beethoven, the jubilant material triumphs in the end, but in the Smetana, the tragic opening material interrupts the dance as deafness interrupted his life. The work is packed with a lifetime of changes, then recedes in peace.
All three pieces were easy to listen to, which does not imply that any are devoid of content. We are indebted to the composers for much of that, for expressing themselves clearly. We also owe the quartet, however, for delivering a lucid message and giving it the energy to bring it to life.