Marc-André Hamelin was the guest, joining the Takács for a second half consisting entirely of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor. Would the über-pianist meld with the introverted quartet? Smart adjustments were made on both sides, and Hamelin's tone grew appealingly pearly. Violinist Edward Dusinberre's portamentos (slides between notes) were polished to a shine, and violist Geraldine Walther smoothly inserted herself into the conversation at important junctures, and then deftly withdrew.
Dusinberre took a few moments to explain to the audience some of the Venetian associations in Britten's String Quartet No. 3, written in Venice just before his death in 1976. Schubert's "Rosamunde" quartet is so nicknamed because of material the composer borrowed from his earlier incidental music; Shostakovich's Piano Quintet alludes to the Symphony No. 5. And Britten quotes from his Death in Venice in this quartet. The work throws a lot of technical hurdles at the ensemble - hazy, stratospheric material, a viola gesture that resembles fingernails on chalkboard. The quartet handled it all expertly and with a diversity of character.
Dusinberre mentioned the gentle lapping of the opening evoking the watery city. Are the last moments of the piece really Britten looking for consolation at the end of his life, as Dusinberre suggests?
Maybe. But the passacaglia ending seemed like another clever borrowing, an ode to another: Stravinsky. The older composer had died just a few year earlier, his grave but a vaporetto ride across the lagoon to San Michele. The notes of the passacaglia may have come from the bells of Venice. But for whom do they toll?
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