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By Jove, That Jupiter Quartet

That Ionarts loves the Corcoran Gallery of Art's Frances and Armand Hammer Auditorium is no secret, and since the Corcoran’s is also one of the highest-quality chamber series, we usually love the content, too. Little wonder that the first concert of the season this Friday with the Jupiter Quartet (fairly unknown, still – but not likely for much longer) should have turned out well. Since the Jupiter Quartet is a ‘repeat offender’ at the Corcoran, it was not likely just the substantial cameo of ex-Takács Roger Tapping that filled the auditorium’s round to near capacity. The Schubert Quartettsatz stood out for the quartet’s ability to let the first notes swell from eerie sul tasto-like notes to a ff in four bars.

Maybe you can love Britten quartets when listening to them on CD. But you certainly cannot fall in love with them. For that you need as felt and accomplished a performance as the Jupiter Quartet delivered. The speech of cellist Dan McDonough before it was good, could have been shorter, and turned out to be entirely unnecessary as the powerful performance spoke volumes. The intertwined lines of the long last movement (Chacony: sostenuto) were presented in a rich sound, extremely well played with a wide palette of expressive dynamics, that made the Britten a most welcoming and lyrical work, a real pleasure for the ears.

Roger Tapping, who incredibly chose family over art when he left the Takács, is one of the finest (chamber-) violists around. Seeing this éminence grise among four players, all of whom could be his children, was charming. Nelson Lee (first violin), Meg Freivogel (second violin), Liz Freivogel (viola) and Dan McDonough at least didn’t appear intimidated and continued in the Mozart Quintet No. 4, K. 516, where they had ended in the Britten while Mr. Tapping visibly enjoyed the enthusiasm of his music-making junior colleagues. Liz Freivogel’s supple tone had already stood out in the Schubert and the Britten. In the Mozart (with an Adagio ma non troppo that was grave rather than lamenting) where she emitted first-viola-sounds right next to Tapping, it was even more impressive, both on its own account and in comparison. None of the boxiness that viola players often tickle out of their instruments but instead very burnished – a tonal quality that the quartet as a whole may also claim among their assets. Helped by the superior acoustic as compared to the Landon School’s Auditorium, I cannot say that I missed the Takács for a moment, even with their performance of K. 516 still in my ears from last week. That is – as those who know how I feel about the Takács – as high praise as I can muster.

Jupiter Quartet with Roger Tapping, Corcoran Gallery of Art, October 21, 2005

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B.Britten & D.Shostakovich, String Quartets 2 & 3,
Jupiter String Quartet

To correct the imbalance of having mentioned the Takács twice as often as the quartet that actually did the playing: Jupiter Quartet, Jupiter Quartet, Jupiter Quartet. (That may incidentally have been the crowd’s reaction to the performance, had the average age not been above 60. Instead, they opted for sustained applause and standing ovations.) The quartet's accomplishment – some very minor slips in the Mozart only added a human face to it; not even the beeping of a hearing aid diminished the pleasure much – was deeply impressing and would have been so for a quartet of any age or, for that matter, with hands bigger than the notably filligrane paws of at least the three fiddlers of the Jupiter.

Upcoming performances at the Corcoran are the Garth Newel Piano Quartet on November 18th (notable for piano quartets by Arthur Foote and Joaquín Turina) and the Klavier Trio Amsterdam in Beethoven, Brahms, and the Fauré (which triggers Roger Tapping alert at Ionarts). The Jupiter Quartet’s next performance in the region is on December 16th at the Library of Congress. To hear their Sunrise (Haydn), Ainsi la nuit (Dutilleux), and Razumovsky no. 1 (Beethoven) I might even give up my boycott of that particular venue.

More ionarts reviews from the Corcoran

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