On Thursday evening pianist Christopher Taylor joined the Pacifica Quartet for Elliott Carter’s Quintet for Piano and String Quartet, beginning the Library of Congress’s year-long salute to Carter’s centenary. As this piece was programmed in the region earlier this month by the Brentano Quartet, the LoC should be proud of the longevity of the compelling work they commissioned a decade ago for Carter’s 90th birthday.
Carter divides the work’s single movement between percussive clusters for piano and angular textures for string quartet. Taylor, an incredible pianist with a seemingly endless appetite for contemporary music, was awarded first prize at the 1990 Kapell Competition at the University of Maryland. (An acquaintance at the concert recollected experiencing Taylor’s brilliant performance of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus, played without a score.) Back to Carter’s Quintet, the work begins and ends with a single note from the piano. The amount of meaning Taylor placed in these notes was immense, and the cacophony between them always clear and of brilliant tone. Unfortunately, the Pacifica’s rather vague approach to this challenging work allowed Taylor to easily dominate. Taylor’s mathematics degree from Harvard possibly allows him to analyze the construction of Carter's music at a level beyond most musicians.
The sense of the Pacifica possibly being under-rehearsed was further experienced in Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A Minor (the same one the group played in the area in 2005), where their impressive, uninhibited playing and striking volume were undermined by inconsistent attacks and releases (from the second violinist, particularly). First violinist Simin Ganatra conveyed the appealing tune of the third-movement Intermezzo very sweetly.
Robert Battey, Pacifica Quartet (Washington Post, May 31)
The Pacifica ended the program with their strongest work, Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major (op. 59, no. 1). With spring-like optimism, the rising themes burst forth with clarity and uniform gestures that were lacking in the Mendelssohn and Carter. Joy was felt when the quartet surged beyond the fifteen repeated unison notes of the second movement’s theme, while the third-movement Adagio was beautifully phrased. Programming Carter’s Quintet between such contented works was appealing. The encore, a Tango by Piazzola, had a nice groove with periodic slides up the fingerboards.
The Library of Congress's concert season ends tonight, with an all-Schubert program from pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist Liza Ferschtman, and cellist Alisa Weilerstein (May 31, 8 pm). The [New York] premiere of Carter’s Interventions, for piano and orchestra, is scheduled for Carter's birthday, with Daniel Barenboim, James Levine, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (December 11 at Carnegie Hall).