Weekend review roundup: guitarist Jason Vieaux, Juilliard String Quartet
In addition to catching the Mayor's Christmas Parade in Hampden -- I just had to see if a) the mayor turned up and b) what sort of reaction she would get -- I heard two excellent concerts.
On Sunday night, the Shriver Hall Concert Series provided a welcome opportunity to get acquainted with the most recent personnel of the Juilliard String Quartet, one of the best known and highest-standard brands in classical music for more than 60 years. (Photo courtesy of juilliardstringquartet.org.)
Violinist Nick Eanet has only recently taken the first chair in the group; the start of his tenure was delayed when he broke his wrist while skating in Central Park a few months ago. He sounded thoroughly at home here, not just blending in with violinist Ronald Copes, violist Samuel Rhodes and cellist Joel Krosnick, but making richly detailed music with them.
There was a dynamic warmth to the performance of Mendelssohn's D major Quartet (Op. 44, No. 1), a sense of spontaneity in the beautifully molded phrasing. Same for Schumann's A major Quartet (Op. 41, No. 3). The slow movements of both works inspired particularly eloquent playing.
Spiritually, you could say that this was an all-German program, since the other piece, the Quartet No. 5 by contemporary Argentinean-born composer Mario Davidovsky, was inspired by Beethoven's Op. 132. It's not that you hear Beethoven clearly in the music, but Davidovsky makes you sense something of Beethoven's profundity in this score's masterfully communicative dissonance and wide range of tone coloring. The Juilliard ensemble made the work a taut, involving drama.
On Saturday night at the Baltimore Museum of Art, I heard a recital by
Jason Vieaux, a substantially gifted guitarist whose playing revealed equal portions of stylistic elegance and technical polish. Presented by the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society and drawing a sizable crowd, the program would have been memorable if it had contained no more than the few minutes needed for Vieaux to perform the Sarabande from Bach's Lute Suite No. 3. What the guitarist did in that short span of time was magical, creating a deeply lyrical poem from the subtly articulated phrases.
Gentle nuances accounted for several other highlights in the concert, including "Julia Florida: Barcarola" by Augustin Barrios (the closing measures of that piece were treated with the most exquisite tonal and rhythmic shading) and the "Evocacion" movements of Jose Luis Merlin's "Suite del Recuerdo." Vieaux's arrangements of Albeniz' "Sevilla" and Pat Metheny's "The Bat" also proved highly effective. The guitarist brought a great deal of virtuosity and atmosphere to Leo Brouwer's "El Decameron Negro."
For an encore, there was a disarming, smooth-jazz (in the best sense of the term) treatment of "Christmas Time is Here"; it seemed doubly satisfying on the night of the season's first snowfall.
To give you a taste of Vieaux's refined musicianship, I've attached a clip of a 2007 performance of that gorgeous work by Barrios that he played so tenderly at the BMA: