Fun, humor and thought provocation were all delivered with a blend of exuberance and polished artistry at?Tuesday night’s Buffalo Chamber Music Society concert by the Ulysses Quartet.
It was a well-chosen, albeit quirky, program that meshed masterpieces by Franz Joseph Haydn and Maurice Ravel, alongside a programming rarity (Pavel Haas’ second quartet) and a more recent score by Paul Frucht (“Rhapsody”).
Haydn’s Quartet in E-flat major (Op. 33, No. 2) is one of his most-played works and derives its nickname – “The Joke” – due to the series of false endings in the last movement that trick the unknowing audience into thinking the piece has ended before continuing, repeating the pause, inserting another phrase, etc., until it really does end.
It was a solid performance. The rest of the evening took the interest level up even higher.
There was a percussion kit onstage and it had a role to play in the next piece, Haas’ quirky, jazz-inflected quartet from 1925 that featured improvised percussion inserted into the fourth movement. After the work’s debut, the composer opted out of the rhythmic choice he’d made and reworked the score sans drums, cymbals, etc., but the Ulysses folks were able to play the original version because Frucht, composer and percussionist, was available to perform with them.
Echoes of Haas’ teacher Leos Janacek were apparent in the blend of folk-inflected spikiness and semi-romantic undertones, but the mini battery at Frucht’s disposal sent the music into another realm.
Fruct had given a preconcert talk about how his “Rhapsody” had been inspired by a performance of Ravel’s “Tzigane.” Originally scored for violin duo, Frucht adapted the duo into a quartet piece where Ravel’s vision morphed into an energetic mutant, but one with a certain jagged beauty that paid honor to the inspiration.
The program ended with a beautiful reading of Ravel’s singular quartet, one he dedicated to his teacher Gabriel Faure (who wasn’t thrilled by the last movement) and, according to the French critic Alexis Roland-Manuel, got a good review from Claude Debussy, who wrote, “In the name of the gods of music, and in mine, do not touch a single note of what you have written in your Quartet.”
The, by now, standard standing ovation was actually deserved and the encore, a rendering of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” complete with Santa hats, reindeer-inspired head gear and percussion topped the program off in a seasonal note.
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Buffalo Chamber Music Society concert:?Ulysses Quartet
When: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019
Venue: Mary Seaton Room, Kleinhans Music Hall