Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 23, 2023

REVIEW: Close Encounters with Music, "Escher String Quartet"

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA 
May 21, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

The Escher String Quartet
Introducing this concert of three diverse pieces with his trademark humor and erudition, CEWM Artistic Director Yehuda Hanani noted the common links of the composers to the "folklore of their native lands" and their shared "interest in music for children."   

The Escher String Quartet (violinists Adam Barnett-Hart and Brendan Speltz; violist Pierre LaPointe; cellist Brook Speltz), founded in 2005 and based in New York, played the first two works on the program. It opened with a sumptuous account of Maurice Ravel's 1903 Quartet, whose forward-looking harmonies drew mixed reactions from his French contemporaries: alarm (Gabriel Faure) and enthusiasm (Claude Debussy). The Eschers delivered a lush "Allegro moderato - tres doux," a brisk "Assez vif - tres rhythme," a pensive "Tres lent," and a rousing "Vif et agite."
In sharp contrast, Ruth Crawford Seeger's "1931 Quartet" offered clashing dissonance in four short, densely concentrated movements. But Hanani also urged the audience to listen for the “childlike wonder and adventure” in the music.  The poignant "Andante" became so popular that Seeger (a prominent scholar of American folk music and stepmother of folksinger Pete Seeger) later arranged it for string orchestra. The Eschers' powerful reading of this groundbreaking modernist work was virtuosic and intensely focused. 

For Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1890 string sextet, "Souvenir of Florence," they were joined by cellist Hanani and nationally acclaimed violist Daniel Panner in a vibrant performance. While reflecting the composer's fond memories of visiting that city in Italy, the last two movements are nevertheless distinctively Russian in flavor. The group fashioned a brilliant "Allegro con spirito," a flowing "Adagio cantabile e con moto" (which sounded, in Hanani's words, almost "like an Italian opera aria"), a vigorous "Allegretto moderato," and a headlong "Allegro con brio e vivace." 

Named after the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher, the quartet members not only demonstrated his "method of interplay between individual components working together to form a whole" blended sound, but they vividly showcased a vast range of string ensemble writing over a forty-year period in their imaginative program. 
The CEWM season will conclude at Mahaiwe on Sunday, June 11, 2023 at 4:00 pm.