Another music review — The Esterhazy Quartet

A Nice Performance

The Esterhazy Quartet performed at MU’s Whitmore recital hall on March 19.  Perhaps it was the combination of a long day and classical music late that evening, but halfway through the performance, I was fighting to keep my eyes open.  It wasn’t the graceful melodies; in fact, the music was quite chaotic.  What really lost my attention was the seemingly lack of sense, focus and narration to the music.

There’s no doubt, the group was talented and experienced playing together.  The blend was great, the intonation was nearly perfect and each musician communicated well with the rest of the quartet.  They cut off together and paused in unison.  So what was missing? The artistic expression.

The performance was too consistent for my taste.  The music never really left the page.  And by that, I mean the musicians simply played what was written and met our minimal expectations.  Overall, it was a nice performance.  Who wants nice, though?  The performance lacked passion and musicality.

Several of the songs seemed to blend together, and sometimes I couldn’t tell if I had just heard two separate pieces or one extremely long piece.  Although I expected more extensive pieces in a classical concert, the quartet lost my interest after the first thirty minutes.  It was difficult to engage in the music when the songs were so similar and yet abstract.

The repertoire had little flow.  There is a reason most concerts begin with an attention grabber, transition with a slow song, bring up the excitement again in the next piece, and end the performance with a more popular tune.  Thus I was pleased at the end when I recognized the traditional hymn songs.

For most of the pieces, I failed to find a story line to the songs. When listening to the music, my mind could not latch onto an idea – not a theme or a storyline or an emotion.  The songs they chose sounded disorganized.  The lack of narration or personality in the piece made it difficult to listen to.   I did not mind the absence of vocals or lyrics to the songs, but I would have liked to know the meaning behind the songs.  The song titles gave no hints.  I wondered about the inspirations behind the songs and the message of the piece.  I tried to imagine what lyrics might accompany the melodies, yet my mind was overwhelmed with the raw sound.  I just struggled to make sense of what I was hearing.

The addition of the clarinet added some character to the performance.  However, I personally felt that the clarinet did not fit with the rest of the group.  It sounded out of place, and perhaps this was the intention of the song, but I wouldn’t know because I failed to understand the themes of the pieces.  Still, it added some needed variety to the concert and a rich tone to the quartet’s blend.

In conclusion and with a dose of honesty, I would not pay to see this quartet play again in the future. Considering it was a free concert, it met my expectations and I appreciated the addition of entertainment to my Monday night.

If you wish, you can listen to one of their songs here. I must say, the quartet sounds much better outside a performance setting.  When I listen a second time, the music is truly beautiful and I feel like I may not have given these musicians the proper appreciation.

 

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