Left Bank Quartet's Light Touch
When the Left Bank Concert Society took the stage at the Terrace Theater on Sunday, the lights dipped for a moment into total blackness. The audience twittered -- some kind of technical error? But as the lights rose again and the quartet began to play, it turned out to be a fitting (if slightly theatrical) launch to a program titled "Darkness and Light."
Chiaroscuro is nothing new in music, of course -- the best is always complexly lit, nuanced with shadows and subtle, elusive colors. That was certainly true of Gyorgy Kurtag's "Hommage ¿ Mihaly Andras," a set of 12 miniatures that opened the program. Rivaling Webern in concision and brevity, each was a perfect haiku of sound, evocative and utterly beguiling -- like luminous shells on the beach of a distant planet.
But then came the dark side. Some people claim to love the music of Paul Hindemith; others find it needs way too much chewing before swallowing. Case in point: the heavy-treading song cycle "Des Todes Tod," whose titles -- "Vision of Death and Misery," "God's Death" and "Death's Death" -- give away the cheerful gist. The insightful mezzo Delores Ziegler exhumed considerable beauty from the low-voiced score, keeping it alive despite a pace so ponderous it threatened to expire on the spot.
But daylight returned again with more superb Kurtag ("Six Moments Musicaux," Op. 44) and the closing work, Brahms's radiant String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 67. It was the composer's favorite of his three quartets, perhaps because it's so relaxed and full of life; it's a work impossible not to fall for. The Left Bank players gave it an effusive, even rambunctious reading, and if they sacrificed delicacy for pure unbuttoned pleasure, so be it -- it's a trade-off worth making.
-- Stephen Brookes