by Lindsay Koob
Friday’s first outing of program 10 brought the expected assortment of choice chamber plums. Perhaps the sweetest part of King Charles’ bittersweet final year with us is that we’ve been treated to a steady barrage of his personal favorites, from the first program forward. He and his artistic cronies have gone all-out to give us a series to remember.
This one pretty much got right down to business, except for the good doctor’s affectionate reference to Geoff Nuttall — his blindingly blond successor — as “my HAIR apparent.” With that, he turned over the stage to the St. Lawrence Quartet, and Geoff’s usual witty and informative intro to the morning’s first work: Josef Haydn’s Op. 77/No. 2 Quartet.
And his remarks were substantial — but entertaining and informative. He told us that all string quartet players worship regularly at the shrine of “Papa Haydn” — the inventor of the form. He wrote nearly 60 of them, and they’re all works of genius (I agree). He then talked us lovingly through the whole thing, movement by movement — demonstrating a few magic moments as he went. “I really want you to get this,” he effused. He finished with “Just like I tell my son Jack to eat his veggies to make his brain grow … listen to your Haydn.”
And, thanks to his delightful lesson, the music’s genius was indeed revealed more fully — even to a seasoned classical geek like me. The opening movement was full of Haydn’s usual sparkling wit and exuberance, leading into a racy minuet that came across more like a scherzo. The slow movement’s theme and variations grew from a very simple, rather drab theme (Papa H. was not the best of melodists, as Geoff had pointed out) — but the music’s miracle lay in how he made something ordinary blossom into a marvel of sophistication and varied emotion. The finale’s mad dash to the finish line — after the shock of beginning in an entirely different key (quite revolutionary in its day) — left us breathless.
Thence to Antonin Dvorak’s lovely Four Romantic Pieces, for violin (Daniel Phillips) and piano (Steven Prutsman). But not before Wadsworth abjectly begged our pardon for subjecting us to a longer-than-usual program (even though he knew we’d stick around all day if he let us). “It’s just that I’m trying to fit in as many of my favorites as I can.” Bring ‘em on, Charles — you’ll get no complaints from us.
I heard Phillips (with another pianist) play these aching pieces one or two Spoletos ago — and was overjoyed to hear them again. Like Wadsworth told us, “With Danny, it’s all about the music — not him.” The opening piece’s sweet and flowing lyricism led into the second piece’s brusque dance, before lapsing back into the third number’s dulcet serenity. The final larghetto’s poignant lament swelled into dramatic intensity before fading back to a soft sigh at the end.
Robert Schumann — a musical manic-depressive if there ever was one — left us one of his most relentlessly cheerful works in the E-flat Piano Quartet, Op. 47. Charles proudly introduced his “dream team” of musicians for it: Phillips and Prutsman were again on duty, plus Hsin-Yun Huang on viola and Alisa Weilerstein on cello. Doc W took the chance to remind us that these players — along with just about everybody else we’ve heard here this year — are not just hyper-talented newbies destined for greatness … they’re already there (even though some of them still look quite young).
After a slow introduction, our musicians simply exploded into buoyant good spirits. The following scherzo — despite its rather sinister start — dazzled us with its high-speed, often gossamer “tiptoeing” motif. The piece’s tender core was found in the slow movement, beginning with some of the most devastating cello singing I’ve yet heard from Weilerstein. Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, she passed on her theme in turn to Huang and Phillips — and the overall beauty was almost too much to bear. Then they went all polyphonic on us in the manic finale: pure fun, with a fantastic final fugal flourish!
Charles, you can take us into overtime anytime you like.