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My Dinner With Andrew

New York
Weill Recital Hall
02/06/2004 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Quartet # 11
Alberic Magnard: Quartet in E Minor
Maurice Ravel: Quartet in F Major

Ysaye Quartet
Guillaume Sutre and Luc-Marie Aguera (violins)
Miguel Da Silva (viola)
Francois Salque (cello)

A Month at Carnegie Hall

Part Two


“It was at the theater and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived;
the rest was but a sleep and a forgetting. This was Paul's fairy tale,
and it had for him all the allurement of a secret love…The moment
the cracked orchestra beat out the overture from Martha
or jerked at the serenade from Rigoletto, all stupid and
ugly things slid from him, and his senses were deliciously, yet
delicately fired.”

Willa Cather, “Paul’s Case”

“In the graciously opulent room that is Weill, its prismatically
reflective chandeliers so richly enhancing the fine acoustics,
it is easy to feel that one is an Esterhazy, able to command the
performance of any sumptuous work at the slightest nod of the head.”

Concertonet.com 2/23/01

The journey from Pittsburgh to New York may have been disastrous for Cather’s protagonist, but the search for the grail still ended on 57th Street. Yet what most everyone thinks of as Carnegie Hall is not even the premiere performing space in its own building. That honor must go to the Weill Recital Hall, the jewel in New York’s musical crown. Before considering the pivotal position of Carnegie as a whole in the present and future of Gotham musical life, a quick side trip to the elegant chamber music room should be quite refreshing.

In every way, this intimate salon embodies what is best in classical music management. Not only are the surroundings comfortably upscale and the acoustics superb for chamber music, but the very smallness of the place encourages a quieter, more attentively involved audience and a richer experience for the concert attendee. Add to this enjoyable mix an intelligent programming effort, including some of the finest debuts and recitals of aspirants recommended from all over the world, and the result is the most consistently satisfying in the city.

I suppose that when you name your son Albéric, you have to expect that he will become a Wagnerian but there is no doubt that Francois Magnard, one of the heads of the influential publication Le Figaro, expected great things from his son (there is no truth to the rumor that the composer years later toyed with naming his daughter, who grew to be the painter Ondine Magnard, Hagen). Unfortunately, Albéric Magnard, like Charles Valentin Alkan before him, was marginalized by the interesting and curious story of his death, becoming only a necrologic footnote for most music historians. Actually, he paints a highly charged romantic landscape with a sweeping gray sky, similar in Brucknerian tone to that of Franz Schmidt. What was most impressive in this realization by the superb Ysaye Quartet was their ability to exhibit the composer’s high density textures in such striking chiaroscuro. This music is indeed fascinating, a splendid example of an unjustly neglected corner of fin-de-siecle music and its immediate successors. This cherished rarity was preceded by a high energy Beethoven reading that reminded this listener how few chamber groups really do play as if in one multifaceted voice.

But the highlight of the evening was assuredly the Ravel. Perhaps only a true French group can communicate this delicate, spidery music with the proper sense of nuance; certainly this particular ensemble made a case for authenticity. Almost unbearable lightness of attack produced total fulsomeness of sound, an object lesson in less being more. The sensuous blending, coupled with the subtle acoustics of the little hall, was thrilling, in an inner-directed sort of way, a guilty pleasure that one was almost embarrassed to be sharing in a room full of strangers. Except for a regrettable gaff by the first violin in the third movement, this was exceptional poetry in musical form.

Surprisingly, Carnegie management has rather ignored this wonderful venue in favor of the new Zankel facility in the basement. As a result, there are far fewer events here this season, but, on the plus side, these concerts have been of a uniformly high caliber, both in terms of performance standards and quality of repertoire (more on Zankel in future installments). One hopes that, in their zeal to appeal to a notoriously fickle mass audience, the people responsible for programming future evenings don’t try and reinvent the Weill.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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