Like many young, New York-based ensembles these days, the Voxare String Quartet casts a wide net for its repertoire, including the almost de rigueur forays into pop and rock arrangements. The group was formed in 2008, and two of its members are still completing formal music studies. But on the strength of its fine concert Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection, the Voxare could have a good shot at professional viability. A complete assessment would require them to offer some standard repertoire, but there was little to criticize at this concert.
Each of the Juilliard-trained players handles his or her instrument well; first violinist Emily Ondracek doesn’t have the warmest sound, but her cool poise on sustained high notes was admirable. Cellist Adrian Daurov turned in richly expressive solos. The group jumps on its music with all fours and makes the tussle worth hearing.
The ensemble’s program became more interesting as the afternoon progressed. The first work, Ned Rorem’s Quartet No. 2, was written in 1950 and had lain “dormant” since then (according to the program notes). Although competently crafted, one can understand why. The work sails along insouciantly but without anything really sticking in the ear. The elements lacked sufficient profile or distinction from one another — the composer chewed more than he bit off. Like Edward McDowell’s, Rorem’s music is derivative of European models and lacks sufficient intrinsic appeal to hold a secure place in the repertory.
Things picked up with Daron Hagen’s Quartet No. 1 (1985). The composer’s freshman effort begins with spare motivic gestures suggesting Anton Webern, but then traverses the Second Viennese School through Alban Berg and ends up in the relative comfort of Erich Korngold. At first, I feared more academic note-spinning, but the piece gives listeners what they need — a succession of distinctive ideas flowing in a coherent musical narrative. Although the work shared with the Rorem an overlong finale, it provoked interest in Hagen’s other quartets, all three of which will be released by the Voxare on Naxos this year.
The concert’s most enjoyable work was the encore, “Pannonia Boundless” by Aleksandra Verbalov, a wonderful postmodern mash-up of Eastern European folk styles.
Battey is a freelance writer.