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February 6, 2012

Spektral Quartet gives a lively performance of three radically different composers

It's rare when an ensemble can perform pieces of entirely different emotional quality and from entirely different musical periods with ease, energy, and contemplation, but occasionally, an ensemble comes around that does just that. The Spektral Quartet played in the intimate setting of Fulton Recital Hall on campus on Saturday night, highlighting the works of Haydn, Brahms, and contemporary composer Adès. Not only were these works from three different musical periods, but they also dealt with entirely different atmospheres: the Haydn a gregarious, extroverted piece, the Brahms an introspective, brooding piece, and the Adès a mix between the two. The Spektral Quartet’s performance was titled “IN/EX-TROVERT” and sought to portray these feelings through the music and performance.

The concert began not with music, but with poetry. Cellist Russell Rolen announced each piece by reading a poetic account of all of the movements, all written by violinist Aurelien Pederzoli. Though the poetry wasn’t quite as good as the music, it garnered interesting thoughts about the music and added layers to the listening experience.

They started with Haydn’s Quartet in F Major, Op. 77 No. 2. The poem described the first movement as a lively conversation, and the quartet delivered. The liveliness of the playing through almost all of the Haydn was spectacular; there was a moment in which Pederzoli almost left his seat. The music beckoned out into the audience, almost as if it were asking people to dance, and the quartet handled the vivacity and extroversion very well. This energy did not die down even in the quieter and more contemplative Andante, which Perdezoli’s poem described as “knowing the history of the world, but not always revealing it.” The performers played this movement with particularly centered energy, ending nicely and leading into the Finale. The communication during the fourth movement really showed, as did the energy. Their cohesion as a group lent itself nicely to the Vivace Assai. Their exciting playing was full of enough energy to rip multiple hairs off violist Doyle Armbrust’s and violinist Austin Wulliman’s bows. The Haydn ended with cries of “Bravo!” from the audience and well-deserved applause.

The group may have shown the most versatility in Adès’s Arcadiana, which came next. The poetic descriptions of this seven-movement piece mirrored both the grotesque and the pleasing aspects of Adès’ 1994 work, which slid in and out of pleasing harmonies, atonal suspensions, and sudden pizzicatos in an unsettling and provocative manner. The piece was mysterious, painting a picture of paradise, “a cave made of slugs” in the words of Pederzoli, drunken dancers killing one another, and finally, a portrayal of “the Echo of an empty room.” Adès’s piece certainly evoked similar images in the mind; there was a beauty that you knew was unstable, both harmonically and rhythmically. The sixth movement, O Albion, for example, began with a beautiful harmonic progression that the quartet played with immense control, but as the movement went on, the harmonies began to twist slightly off-kilter, reminding us that things don’t stay perfect. The quartet masterfully handled this material, weaving in the outward nature of some of the movements with the ambiguous and disturbing moments of others. The audience may have been unsure of how to deal with a piece of music so drastically different from the lighter and pleasing Haydn, but the Quartet certainly did. 
    After a fifteen-minute intermission, Rolen returned to deliver a final poetic account of Brahms’ Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2. To Pederzoli, the first movement seemed to center on the idea that “everything that needs to be said is unsaid.” The movement was nuanced and seemed to be hiding something. Perhaps this was most evident in the strange and unsettling conglomeration of rhythms that Brahms famously incorporated into his works, but it seemed that the outward projection of the piece was artificial, hiding something much darker below. The second movement was lyrical and sad, as if one were savoring fond memories of love. The Spektral Quaret handled these things beautifully, with a low and thick musical texture, supported by Rolen’s full cello sound. The third and fourth movements showed the introspection of the first two movements, slowly building and finally being let out in a fit of passion and anger. The Finale itself was well-conceived and played, with the fond memories of the second movement floating around but quickly being overshadowed by fury. Again, the quartet’s explosive finish was met with loud applause and “Bravos.”

The Spektral Quartet showed immense command of the interplay between “IN/EX”-troversion, a cohesiveness and versatility that is both rare and impressive, and gave music of three entirely different periods their due attention and understanding. It was a treat to hear them. The Spektral Quartet will be returning to campus on February 18th, to perform a new work by Marcos Balter. It would be wrong to miss them.

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