Have you ever worried on entering a concert hall that your perfectly good ticket will be rejected for no reason? This actually happened to me yesterday – sort of, anyway.
I got an email from the Mostly Mozart Festival late yesterday afternoon informing everyone who had tickets for the evening’s concert that there was a pre-concert recital at 6:30, at which the Emerson Quartet would perform one of Haydn’s Op. 76 string quartets. Have you ever seen that movie Run, Lola, Run? (I think in German it’s Lola rennt). Anyway, my trip from my house to Alice Tully Hall which began slightly after 5:40 resembled that movie, in that there was some running – this is why we wear Converse to concerts, and not high heels – but it was mostly just sitting in the subway looking jumpy and then darting and weaving around people in Manhattan. So if there was a 1998 German movie about my experience, it would be probably called Ohrwurm eilt and other than my dramatic dash down the subway steps and explosion through the closing doors of an E train, it would probably actually be kind of boring.
So I got there in time, but when the usher scanned my ticket, her scanner made the “reject” noise, and I had to go back to the box office (with just a few minutes to spare), where they looked up my ticket, squinted at it a little, and then shrugged and printed me another one. I asked what had happened. The guy there didn’t know. But this reprinted ticket got me into the pre-concert recital, with enough time to stop and wonder what the deal is with having a pre-concert concert. It was at least a logical prequel in that it was a Haydn quartet, and the program of the actual concert concert was Mozart, Beethoven and Fauré, in that order.
I am not one to object to mysterious and unanticipated performances of string quartets (I love Haydn’s Op. 76 quartets), however. This one started off sounding a little slack, with a few small pitch problems in the violins – this happened a few more times during the course the evening – and the B section of the third movement was painted in broader strokes than I liked, but in the last movement, the return of the little pizzicato theme that appeared earlier was funny – let no one say that Haydn did not have a sense of humor.
It was during the slow movement of the Mozart quartet (K. 387) that things got going for me – both the slow movement of this piece and that of the Beethoven (Quartet no. 16, Op. 135) were excellent. By the last movement of the Mozart that feeling of slack I had gotten before was gone.
The Beethoven and the Fauré (Piano quartet no. 1, Op. 15, with the addition of Jean-Ives Thibaudet on the piano, and also the addition of M. Thibaudet’s sparkly gold shoes, which deserved applause in their own right, because why don’t male performers take a chance with fashion more often?) were a particularly good contrast. With the Beethoven, it was only after it ended and the applause began that I realized how intently I had been following the music. His late chamber music is so prickly and demanding – it asks a lot of the listener. The Fauré in contrast just carries you along. It demands less and emotes more directly; a good choice for the last item on a long program. And it was terrific – the piece has a rippling, elegant quality that is occasionally sort of mesmerizing. Though I did have a skeptical moment towards the end. You know how Charles Bukowski’s poetry at first seems very vivid and striking, and it’s so easy to read – and then later you realize that it’s a little too easy, and you never feel like reading it again, because it doesn’t ask much of you? I wondered briefly if this Fauré piece was a bit like that. Then I decided it wasn’t, and it was just the contrast with the Beethoven that was causing this impression, and then I told myself to shut up and listen to the piano quartet.*
*Besides, according to a pianist I heard talking on the BBC once, Fauré once wrote a song so good that Henri Duparc punched him. (Then again, for all I know, Henri Duparc punched everyone at song recitals. So who knows.)