April 8, 2007

Vega String Quartet at Emory University 3/23/07

J.S. Bach : Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV1006
Wei-Wei Le, violin

Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 6
Vega String Quartet

J.S. Bach: Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV1012
Guang Wang, violoncello
Our trip to Atlanta was a nice (if all too brief) getaway, and it was a real treat to hear some music at Emory University’s new Emerson Concert Hall on Friday, March 23. The Vega String Quartet is the “quartet-in-residence” at Emory and has over the past year offered a challenging program combining all six Bartok Quartets with the solo string repertoire of Johann Sebastian Bach. I caught the last concert of the series. Bach and Bartok seems, at first glance, an odd combination: Ancient and Modern, austere and convulsive. But it worked, for the most part, if only because these pieces of music are simply so wonderful.

As for the Bach, I feel that perhaps it is my familiarity with note-perfect recordings of these pieces played on period instruments which marred my enjoyment of these performances played on modern instruments with modern, romantic affectations. The big vibrato, the goopy rubato, and the exaggerated dynamics sounded jarring to me and introduced an overt expressionism that seems out of time and place. Further, the performances were a little sloppy. Then again, the grit of the bow on steel, the missed notes, and the ringing open strings reminded me that this music was being performed live, in real time, by a real person, and helped to humanize what can be appear to be merely an empty display of virtuosity. Certainly, these works are difficult to play. But, to my taste, I prefer my Bach to sound effortless and eternal, not like the sound of struggle and domination. But, that’s just me.

On the other hand, the Bartok was absolutely sublime. The Sixth Quartet features the viola in a recurring lead role and Yinzi Kong played the part with the utmost emotion and control which served to unify the disparate movements into a moving and transparent whole. The Quartet played with an enthusiasm and musicality which really brought this somewhat difficult piece to life. It was great fun watching them watch each other and execute their passages with precision and grace; truly an extraordinary experience.

Other Atlanta highlights: a trip to Hutchins & Rea, purveyors of musical scores, where I lusted over pricey editions of Stockhausen, Berio, and Bach amongst many others, but came home with a bunch of Dover scores, Webern’s op.27, and a collection of Cage’s early piano music. We also had a thoroughly delightful and delicious dinner at CafĂ© Lily in Decatur on Saturday night.

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