There’s really no need to see live music. There is a remarkable wealth of recorded music easily shipped or downloaded at your beck and call. Sounds systems are more like virtual reality machines these days. And after a hard day or week of work, isn’t it more appealing to sit back with a glass of your favorite cabernet or single malt, push a button on the remote and enjoy a sonic spectacle in the comfort of your home?
And yet, those who were in attendance at Pueblo’s Ascension Episcopal Church on Saturday night were apparently thrilled by the Veronika String Quartet’s season-opening concert, “Mastery.”
From their “Sound Encounters” theme, the performance included the music of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert. On this evening, the eternally shocking Beethoven suprisingly played “second fiddle” to his musical progeny.
His String Quartet No. 16 from 1816 was the final addition to the late quartets, arguably the most powerful and influential series of artistic creation ever produced. This is a lighter but no less brilliant effort notable more for its humor than universal message. The Veronika String Quartet was fresh and spontaneous in this reading producing an intelligent and witty musical conversation. When the music asked for a deeper reflection, as in the beautiful and soulful theme and variation third movement, the quartet had no trouble switching gears.
In this and throughout the evening, the Veronikas displayed the most essential quality of the chamber music experience: equality of expression with all musicians matched in their technical excellence. This ability would be all the more critical for the most challenging work on the program, Felix Mendelssohn’s F minor String Quartet.
It’s hard to imagine, but the composer’s last work in this form, completed only a couple of months before his death in 1847, does not include a single traditional melody. The expression is tough, taut and spare, requiring supreme concentration from its interpreters.
As such, this was the most impressive accomplishment of the concert as the quartet mined shock from the 130 or so in attendance. Cellist Scott Kluksdahl led the way with repeated sonic explosions which laid down a tortured landscape for the other three strings to follow.
Again, it was the slow movement that changed the tone. But here, Mendelssohn lays bare his heart and asks the players to perform without affectation. Not an easy task but beautifully honored by the Veronikas.
The final work of the evening, Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden Quartet” allowed for full Technicolor grand expression. In deference to the stark expression of the preceding works, this was an expansive rousing and rollicking ride wonderfully engineered by the quartet.
The lead was now in the hands of first violinist Veronika Afanassieva, who appropriately displayed delightful histrionics on the upper register of her instrument. Once again, Kluksdahl provided a rich and dynamic underpinning. But it was the inner voices of second violinist Karine Garibova and violist Katy Dobrotvorskaia that evoked the flesh and blood that make this work so beloved and unforgettable.
With so many of us in Southern Colorado still hurting from the loss of Lawrence Leighton Smith, it was especially poignant that this powerful program was dedicated by the quartet to the memory of the great conductor and pianist.
The Veronika String Quartet with guest artists violist Basil Vendryes and cellist Katharine Knight
“Delicacy,” featuring quartets by Mozart and Schubert and a string sextet by Schoenberg
When: 2 p.m. Feb. 23
Where: The Music Room, the Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale S.
Tickets: $20, $10 students; 634-5583, csfineartscenter.org.
Something Else: All Veronika concerts are performed at 7:30 p.m. the night before the Springs showing at Pueblo’s Ascension Episcopal Church, 420 W. 18th St, Pueblo