Ives Quartet: Death and the Maiden
The year has flown by, as this Sunday brought the last of the Ives Quartet’s astonishing salons. These events are unique, bringing together the IQ, their devoted audience, and various guests. Not only does the audience get to hear the IQ up close and personal, but they also share the group’s insights into individual works. Nowhere on the Peninsula, San Francisco, or the East Bay does this kind of intelligent discussion about classical music happen regularly.
Insofar as it included vocal music, Sunday’s Salon differed from the several that preceded it this year. In addition to violist and musicologist Derek Katz, who graced their “Czech, Please” and “Haydn and Mozart” events earlier this year, this salon included mezzo-soprano Wendy Hillhouse, who sang Death and the Maiden (Der Tod und das Mädchen). Steven Lightburn’s piano accompaniment and Hillhouse’s full-throated voice did more than justice to this short work, which Schubert wrote seven years before he composed the Quartet in D Minor, the second movement of which is known by the same name. Hillhouse took the time to explain the two halves of this song, which represent a dialog with death. One of the joys of these salons is their relative flexibility. Ms. Hillhouse responded to an audience request to sing this a second time, allowing the audience to appreciate the finer nuances of her delivery.
The better part of the salon was given over to the Quartet in D Minor, which Schubert (who died of tertiary syphilis at the young age of 31) wrote in anticipation of his demise. As always at these events, the Ives Quartet aims for a great understanding of the work, so Katz spoke at length about the structure of the second movement (Andante con moto), which was a variations upon a theme. This second movement begins with measured dirge-like tones, that recall the piano accompaniment of the liede, before beginning a series of stand-alone variations that remain loosely connected by the heartbeat tone that they revert to.
Following this second movement, the group returned to the first movement before closing with a small section of the presto. This first movement commences with a violent attack that held the audience in its grasp, making them ripe for the balance of this movement.
The intensity of this piece would be diluted in a larger forum. The private home that serves as a venue for these salons allows the music to be appreciated as it was written – for a small intimate audience. As much as I love the Herbst and Davies Symphony Hall, they don’t hold a candle to these salons.
Hopefully, the Ives Quartet will add more additional salons to their next season. These sell-out events show the need for this type of event.
4 out of 5 stars (Smashing)
March 3, 2012
With Wendy Hillhouse and Steven Lightburn