Franz Schubert: Quartet, D87
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto # 12
Ludwig van Beethoven: Quartet # 7
Alicia De Larrocha (piano)
Tokyo String Quartet
Martin Beaver and Kikuei Ikeda (violins)
Kazuhide Isomura (viola)
Clive Greensmith (cello)
“True joy is a serious business”
The Tokyo String Quartet has been as busy as beavers retooling their sound after a season of tension and turmoil leading to a new mix of personnel. I have been following this group closely since their years at Yale’s summer festival and have lived now through several roster changes. Hearing only one original member left sitting, I am reminded of Jerry Seinfeld’s observation that ultimately one roots for the uniform, not the players.
The new and improved version of the ensemble is decidedly more unified than its predecessor. Even in a pedestrian piece of Schubertian juvenilia, it was apparent that the new sound was dignified and cool, stressing the formal and disciplined approach which may be the influence of the new British and Canadian contingent. Strictly a copy book exercise, the work still emerged as logical music under such scholarly care. When cellist Greensmith nobly intoned the opening tune of the Razumovsky, I knew instantly that this fine group was back in the game.
Ironically however, no one was at Carnegie Hall last evening to hear the Tokyo, but rather to pay homage to the divine Alicia De Larrocha. The ads say that this is Madame’s farewell to the historic venue and, if so, she has learned how to go out a winner. Still able to amaze with her profound delicacy, her reading of the Mozart was understatedly regal, flawlessly precise in tempo, the epitome of classical grace. The platform positioning was odd, the pianist hidden away behind the two violins as neatly as a Festspielhaus orchestra, but the sound came through expertly, complimenting the blending of the quartet as an equal partner. Mozart himself suggested this arrangement of the concerto, self-deprecatingly stating that the woodwind parts were just for show, and a solid realization such as this one confirms his inner ear’s grasp of the essence of this charming evocation.
A common flaw in athletes and artists is staying on the field too long. For a gymnast, twenty may be too old. For a performing musician, there does come a time when the repertoire must be adjusted, the leonine virtuosity slowly transformed into the silence of the lamb. It is an individual timetable which must be followed. Some of the finest concert artists of the recent past are still trying to recapture glory on the New York stage and the results can be embarrassing. But some seem to go on forever. The most perceptive treat their public to the ultimate in respect: they bow out while still at the top. Remarkably, some of the greatest can last a very long time. In Alicia De Larrocha’s case…but no, we won’t reveal her age.
Frederick L. Kirshnit