About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



East Side Story

New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art
02/17/2001 -  
Franz Joseph Haydn: Quartet Opus 17, # 5
Bela Bartok: Quartet # 2
Ludwig van Beethoven: Quartet, Opus 132

Guarneri String Quartet
Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley (violins)
Michael Tree (viola)
David Soyer (cello)

The Guarneri Quartet was formed at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont in 1964 under the guidance of Rudolf Serkin. Since then the original members have become one of the most respected chamber groups of our era, performing throughout the world and distinguishing themselves through numerous recordings. The quartet is in transition now for the first time, as cellist David Soyer has announced that he will pass the bow to Peter Wiley at a concert in May at Carnegie Hall which will feature a debut and a farewell reading of the mighty Schubert Quintet. For their final New York concert series before the change, the group has chosen the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that imposing institution on Fifth Avenue located at one of the loveliest edges of Central Park and surrounded by many of its finest sister museums in the city. “Sold out” doesn’t begin to do justice to the response to this event, the stage jammed with so many seats that it appeared that a large chorus was to accompany the chamber musicians and rows of spectators also lined up at the back of the hall. Nothing would please me more than to relate to you that this special event was graced with a spectacular performance and yet this was hardly the case.

The concert was ultimately an unsatisfying affair. Treating the Haydn as the Tafelmusik that was its original conception, the quartet slipped and slid through the first two movements in a very hesitating manner. Not until the Adagio did they seem to gain their composure and begin to play accurately, if not beautifully. First violinist Arnold Steinhardt has what can only be described as a screechy tone and its very shrill timbre makes blending properly with it virtually impossible. Often last evening the auditory experience was of four distinct lines, not one integrated whole.

Of the six towering Bartok quartets, the most lively is the 2nd, imbued with frenetic élan and exotic suggestions of forbidden melodies from North Africa and Central Asia. The entire Magyar experience of barbaric heritage is encapsulated in its Allegro. The Guarneri, however, took either an intellectual approach, if one is charitable, or simply played it without any fire. Mr. Steinhardt’s irritating squeaks and squawks allowed him to accomplish a very unusual feat: to be both sharp and dull at the same time. The crowd grew restless in the two outer movements, their dissonance without accompanying symmetry producing a rather ugly sonic universe. This is such great music, but it needs a considerable amount of attention and tender loving care to be communicated correctly.

The Beethoven was the best of the three performances, but was still fraught with problems. I have very deep personal feelings associated with its profound slow movement and it is a rare performance that does not make me well up with tears: this was just such a version. The individual phrases of this poignant section (Beethoven alternated between serious illness and periods of rejuvenation during its composition) were simply piled on top of one another in this reading, the all-important emotional evolution mysteriously absent. The other four movements were adequately performed, but 37 years of playing the same pieces over and over again have taken their toll. Without constant vigilance, experience degenerates into tedium. Each performance should always sound like a fresh approach and this is one of the trickiest potions for a musician/conjurer to administer.

Hopefully, the inclusion of new blood will revitalize this ensemble and provide them with, as Beethoven said about the quartet played this evening, “feelings of new strength”. Certainly if classical music is to survive as more than a museum piece, its practitioners must continuously infuse the secrets of new life into its very fiber. In the case of the Guarneri, only time, its staunchest ally or its most powerful foe, will tell.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com