Sense & Sensuality
Performing Arts Center, California State University Northridge
Josef Suk: Meditation on the Chorale, “Saint Wenceslas” (1914)
Leos Janacek: String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata” (1923)
Antonin Dvorak: String Quartet Op. 106 (1895)
Talich String Quartet (Jan Talich, Jr., and Petr Macecek, violins; Vladimir Bukac, viola; Petr Prause, cello)
The young Talich Quartet, dressed somberly in black like characters from a Kafka story, ravished a large audience of seasoned veterans with a program of deeply spiritual yet overtly sensual Czech music, opening the Music Guild’s 56th chamber music season. If old age means the ability to respond as this audience did, then wait for me!
The Quartet sports a change in personnel since their 30th recording for Calliope in 1998, Dvorak’s two last quartets. Vladimir Bukac has moved from second violin to viola (replacing founding member Jan Talich, Sr.) and Petr Macecek has stepped in at second violin. Though their recording is smoother and more technically spotless, the live performance Monday night demonstrated the irreplaceable value of a live performance, particularly when the audience is willing.
And particularly when the musicians on stage are so obviously committed to musical integrity, not to mention being equipped with the formidable technical tools necessary to their task. In fact, the Quartet’s ability to create stunning, almost holographic sound pictures, while simultaneously working on different planes of melody and texture, was quite extraordinary in its deceptive simplicity.
First violinist Talich, Jr. has a hypnotic, slim tone of steel tempered with a profound sense of compassion, and second violinist Macecek is not far behind. Violist Bukac’s playing is a wonder of unforced, nut-brown tone and virtuosic dexterity, while cellist Prause anchors the ensemble with his wide tonal palette and flamboyant bowing gestures. A pleasure to watch if you have not closed your eyes in order to intensify the emotional experience, the Talich Quartet does nothing for show alone. Everything is done solely to enhance the communion between musicians and audience.
After the spiritual cleansing of Josef Suk’s Meditation, Leos Janacek’s First Quartet burst forth with its cinematic ebb and flow (no wonder his music was used in the film of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and swept the audience, armed only with canes and a lifetime of musical love and experience, into a passionate embrace.
After intermission, Dvorak’s vast landscape of a late quartet had the impact of a late Beethoven quartet, the haunting Ländler episode in the second movement suddenly evoking Mahler, and the long epilogue in the last movement carrying the audience along so enthusiastically that they called back the Quartet four times until they were rewarded with the last movement of Dvorak’s American Quartet.
To coincide with their American tour, Harmonia Mundi have released the Talich Quartet’s newly-repackaged Beethoven cycle on Calliope (with Petr Messiereur, Jan Kvapil, Jan Talich, Sr. and Evzen Rattay as the principals) at the generously low price of 7 CDs for the price of 3.