By Stephen Cohn
I am not a music critic - I’m a composer, an appreciator and, I guess, a child at heart because I still get very excited and inspired when I hear exceptional performances of intriguing music. Such was the case yesterday when I attended a Glendale Noon Concert, programmed by Jacqueline Suzuki. It was only about 40 minutes in length which is great for people like me with a cultural case of 21st Century ADD. I was drawn to the event because the featured performer was Susan Svrcek of Piano Spheres, whom I had heard at Zipper Hall recently and was quite taken with her playing and her choice of music.
The program consisted of one solo piano piece, LA Times by Edward Cansino, which I had heard and liked at Piano Spheres and two piano quartets which I had not heard: Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor and Schnittke’s Piano Quartet in A Minor (After Mahler). What I learned from the program notes was that the Mahler quartet is the only piece of chamber music he wrote and is the first movement of a larger work which was not completed – his work on it was interrupted by his death. The Schnittke is based on the incomplete second movement of the Mahler – so hearing the two quartets in sequence was quite fascinating. Both are beautiful, very dramatic pieces. The Mahler is rich and complex and quite Mahleresque; the Schnittke has a powerful dramatic curve which starts with quiet, Mahler-like material, then increasing in dissonant lines, harmonies and intensity, it builds to a powerful climax – then stops dead, takes a breath, and returns to the quiet Mahler-like material to a subdued, resigned ending. It feels like a peaceful acceptance of death and given the historical context, it may be so. The performances by all were passionate, powerful and articulate and the Glendale Baptist Church added a nice reverb which fattened the sound and enhanced the blend of the ensemble.
Incidentally, Susan Svrcek said she thinks the Mahler Quartet was a sketch for an orchestral work – she said the piano writing is very dense and unpianistic and looks orchestral in nature. However, in spite of this, she played beautifully on everything yesterday. Her performances, besides being very expressive and powerful, projected a sense of confidence and command of the material. The string players were Jacqueline Suzuki, Violin, Adriana Zopo, Viola and Simone Vitucci, Cello – all played with wonderful energy and accuracy, giving the ensemble a rich, full sound which heightened all the colorful harmonies.
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