[Edit: Particularly note the involuntarily hilarious comment section!]
There is something very satisfying about a civilized little concert of chamber music on a Sunday morning. And particularly so when it takes place in a venue with the kind of austere dignity as the Allerheiligen Hofkirche (All-Saints Court Church) has. Built by Leo von Klenze, destroyed by war, and re-built between 1986 and 2003, it now features raw bricks on the interior, instead of the lavish, pseudo Byzantine ornamentations and frescos.
The Bavarian State Opera features its six annual chamber music programs in this venue, which, apart from the impressive ambiance, offers a fine acoustic, too. And what better way to let the Thanksgiving weekend peter out with a program of Five Bach Fugues arranged for String Quartet, Mendelssohn, Janáček, and Beethoven - right?
Bach, Fugues arr. for String Quartet, rather modestly played by the Emerson String Quartet*
Bach, Art of the Fugue, superbly played by the Emerson String Quartet
None of these performances have been satisfying, because these player simply aren't chamber musicians, and they seem either unwilling or unable to perform at even the most basic standards required of professional chamber musicians. Their concerts fall generally somewhere between dissatisfying and embarrassing.
A relatively recent one featured Schnittke's Third Quartet coupled - logically - with Beethoven's op.130 Quartet. Except: logically only if the Beethoven had been performed with Die Grosse Fuge as the finale, because that's Schnittke's point of reference. Alas, the program indicated that op.133 was neither played in place of the patched, 'official' finale, nor separately. At intermission my colleague and I were wondering out loud about that curious omission. Die Grosse Fuge as an encore seemed a little ambitious... but how to explain its absence otherwise? The performance of the Beethoven did the answering. During the most excruciating passages of op.130 we looked at each other knowingly: that's why they didn't play it... they realized they'd never have been be able to pull it off and stuck (wisely, I guess) instead to the still under-rehearsed regular finale. The impression was a sorry one.
Matters weren't much better last Sunday: wretched, pitiful orchestra-fiddling and note-playing, wrong notes, horrible intonation, and unlovely sounds from all instruments (a particularly paltry cello) made Bach a pain and Mendelssohn's op.12 E-flat Quartet a chore to the ears. I don't often leave at intermission (and only once before intermission), but these instrument-players, whose level of playing I might have just accepted at a musical soirée at a friends' house, not a concert that sells tickets, were not going to ruin my, and my company's, Sunday.