The Jasper String Quartet gave a brilliant performance of works by Haydn, Berg, and Schumann before a sparse but enthusiastic audience at the Spencer Theater Friday evening July 30. Their challenging program began with Haydn’s Op 77 #1 in G Major. This was one of the genre’s supreme master’s last works in this or any other form.
The young musicians played with vigor and precision. The writing for first violin is so virtuosic that one can easily understand why Mozart played second violin when he performed in a string quartet of Haydn’s while the older composer played the viola. Haydn’s viola parts are no walk in the park either.
The first movement was brisk and brilliant. The adagio was lovely. The third movement is a wild presto that the Jaspers played with appropriately wild abandon. The finale was another athletic presto.
The Haydn was followed by Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite – written in 1926. It’s a six movement string quartet. The piece has a detailed program which wasn’t revealed until after the death of the composer’s widow a little more than 30 years ago. Berg left detailed notes in the score outlining the relationship of the music to the events surrounding Berg’s 10 year affair with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. All this and more was explained by the pre-concert lecturer Larry Wolz, professor of music at Hardin Simmons University.
While all this information is interesting it doesn’t make the music better or worse. The simple truth is that of all the 20th century composers whose music is force fed to a resistant public by professional musicians who think they know better what the unwillingly public wants or needs, only Alban Berg is a genius. At his most dissonant or raucous he is still interesting and fascinating. Berg’s teacher Arnold Schoenberg would have made a better painter than a composer.
The Lyric Suite is a powerful masterpiece that the Jasper String Quartet is very committed to and into which they poured everything they had. Their bows were shedding hair like Marine recruits at boot camp. This is a piece that requires multiple hearings to be assimilated. It was played with passionate conviction. The audience responded in kind.
After the intermission, the program concluded with Schumann’s A major quartet, the third of the three dedicated to Mendelssohn that comprise Op 41. These quartets are not performed as often as their merit deserves. The Jaspers made a compelling case for the A Major quartet. Their playing was powerful and intense throughout the work. The third movement adagio was filled with emotion and was brilliantly played. The virtuosic finale showed an ensemble at top of its game.
The four young musicians who make up this group need just a bit of luck to reach the top of the string quartet pole. The audience at the Spencer Theater was mostly gray as is typical for this type of music. Despite the extraordinarily rich literature that exists for small groups of instruments chamber music, like the rest of classical music, will lose its audience unless composers of genius appear and write new works that the public wants to hear. Regardless of the future, Ruidoso’s three concert chamber music series got off to a great start. And this fine quartet can stand comparison with any of the country’s leading string ensembles.
Jasper String Quartet:
J. Freivogel, violin
Sae Niwa, violin
Sam Quintal, viola
Rachel Henderson-Freivogel, cello