Friday, June 16, 2017

Met Museum: Irving Penn Centennial

The problem facing any gallery or museum that attempts to mount a retrospective of Irving Penn's photographs is the sheer volume of material available for presentation.  Penn's career spanned some six decades from the mid-1940's well into the first decade of the twenty-first century.  During this period he worked continuously and in every decade produced some of the most iconic photographs of the post war era.  Beyond that, he was a gifted darkroom technician who almost single handedly revived the platinum printing process that provided far greater depth and tonal range than the use of silver bromide paper allowed.  In one instance, four prints of the same image (Girl Drinking) have been placed side by side at this exhibit to demonstrate the different effects that could be achieved by alternating between hand-made platinum and commercially manufactured silver gelatin papers.

The Met Museum's current Centennial exhibit solves the problem of what photographs to show from such a large body of work by showcasing the "landmark promised gift from The Irving Penn Foundation to The Met of more than 150 photographs by Penn, representing every period of the artist's dynamic career with the camera."  Fortunately, this gift contains an excellent cross section of the artist's oeuvre and contains some of the best examples of his work available in each genre.  In addition, on display are photographs that entered the Met's collection prior to this acquisition.

The exhibit begins with several examples of Penn's early street photography shot in 1941 when the artist would have been approximately 24 years old.  To be honest, these early attempts, many of them nothing more than straightforward representations of store signs, are not particularly remarkable in themselves but are still worth seeing in order to obtain a better appreciation of what would follow.

The next steps Penn would take were a series of what the museum refers to as "existential portraits."  Most of these were completed in 1947-1948 and featured such subjects as Alfred Hitchcock, Spencer Tracy, Peter Ustinov, Salvador Dali, Truman Capote and Marcel Duchamp.  The best is a portrait of Mrs. Armory Carhart - displayed here in an uncropped print that shows the studio equipment surrounding the background curtain - that gives an early indication of Penn's talent as a fashion photographer.  The fashion photographs themselves depict with wit and style the world of haute couture as it existed in New York City in the late 1940's and early 1950's.  Included among them are many photos featuring Lisa Fonssagrives, the elegant Swedish model whom Penn would eventually marry.

It's important to note at this point that Penn had a great deal of expert help in developing his talent.  Before even taking up photography, he had already studied art in Philadelphia under Alexey Brodovich, art director of Harper's Bazaar.  In New York, Penn's earliest portrait and fashion assignments, mentioned above, were given him when he joined the staff of Vogue and came under the direction of Alexander Liberman.  Liberman proved the perfect mentor for Penn, and he was always wise enough to give full rein to his protege's creativity.  In many respects, Liberman was the type of art director most editorial photographers can only dream of working for.

One of Penn's most important long running projects was photographing tradespeople in the outfits in which they worked.  These individuals included everyone from a waiter to a balloon saleman to a "rag and bone" man.  Although the documentation accompanying the exhibit made no mention of this that I could see, these photographs clearly show the influence of the German photographer August Sander who completed a similar project, entitled People of the 20th Century, during the Weimar period.  Penn extended this concept when he traveled to such exotic locations as Peru, New Guinea and Dahomey.  When photographing alien cultures, Penn was always careful to show total respect both to his sitters and to the societies to which they belonged no matter how far different from his own.  In addition to their importance as photographs, these images also have a distinct anthropological value.

Other genres Penn pursued were still lifes, fine art nudes and close-up studies of cigarette butts, the last blown up so large that they are monumental in appearance.  Although these are all stunning technical achievements, none of them in my opinion rises to the level of greatness achieved in Penn's portrait and fashion photography.

A few of the tools used by Penn in his work are also on display.  These include a battered theater curtain that he invariably used as a backdrop for his portraits as well as a Rolleiflex 3.5 E3 twin lens reflex camera with 75 mm Carl Zeiss Planar lens.  The focal length of the lens is notable.  It is a "normal" lens rather than the short telephoto (approximately 150 mm) normally used for portrait work.

Irving Penn was born on June 16, 1917. Today would have been his 100th birthday.

The exhibit continues through July 30, 2017.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Summer Break

Now that the 2016-2017 season has concluded, it's time to remind my readers that this is a seasonal blog.  While I may be posting a handful of articles over the summer months - most of them to do with art exhibits I've seen - this blog will be largely inactive until late September.

I intend to devote the summer months to finishing my fourth novel, The Blue Hours, the first draft of which I completed last year.  Summer seems the best time, principally because there are so few distractions, to lose myself in a fictional world deeply enough to make the experience believable to both myself and those who read my work.  This particular book is a noir thriller, a tribute to Cornell Woolrich who invented the genre.

During the summer months, I also intend to post one street photograph each day on my other blog, City of Strangers.  While I'm not a musician and have at best a limited knowledge of the repertoire, I am - if I do say so myself - a highly competent photographer.  I hope some of you will take the time to check out my work.

Wishing everyone a great summer!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Carnegie Hall: Met Orchestra Performs Mahler

On Wednesday evening, I walked down to Carnegie Hall to hear the last musical event on my calendar for the 2016-2017 season as the Met Orchestra gave the first of three scheduled concerts.  I subscribe to this series and had originally planned to all attend all three concerts but then changed my mind when James Levine dropped out as conductor.  I kept the ticket to first concert because it featured an all-Mahler program as well as mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and tenor Michael Polenzani as guest artists.  In place of Mr. Levine, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the orchestra.

The program opened with Mahler's 1905 cycle of songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn - "Der Schildwache Nachtlied," "Verlor'ne Müh," "Trost im Unglück," "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht," "Das irdische Leben," "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt," "Rheinlegendchen," "Lied des Verfolgten im Turm," "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen," and "Lob des hohen Verstandes."  I've taken the time to list the titles of all ten songs simply because Mahler's adaptations from the early nineteenth century collection of folk poems extended over a number of years and included works for both voice and piano as well as voice and orchestra.  Even the 1905 edition of the latter, that performed here, differed from the 1899 edition that included two additional songs - "Urlicht" and "Es sungen drei Engel."  The reader is referred to the Wikipedia article for a fuller history.

If the history of Mahler's compositions based on Des Knaben Wunderhorn is convoluted, it's because the source material had such a huge impact upon him and ran like a thread through his music.  This was not simply a case of a composer happening upon a well known poem and setting it to music as Schubert and Brahms had done in their lieder.  The Wunderhorn anthology provided not only material for roughly half the songs Mahler composed during his career but also for his symphonies.  One has to wonder why this archaic collection of songs that hover uneasily between folk tradition and German Romanticism held such vital appeal for a composer who was himself by birth not German but Bohemian.  These strange songs must have held a personal significance for Mahler that perhaps he himself did not fully comprehend.  Some of his settings have a martial air while others are seemingly no more than idyllic love songs.  The most harrowing is Das irdische Leben ("The Earthly Life") told from the point of view of a starving child. The death of a child was one to which Mahler would return several years later in his 1904 Kindertotenlieder that presaged the death of his own daughter and was based on a series of poems by Friedrich Rückert who had also lost two of his own children to scarlet fever.  Eight of Mahler's siblings had died while still in childhood and he must necessarily have been deeply traumatized by this introduction at so young an age to the finality of death.  

Susan Graham and Michael Polenzani each took a place on one side of the conductor and alternated in their performances of the song.  (There was one humorous moment, though, where Ms. Graham waved Mr. Polenzani back to his seat and proceeded to sing two songs in a row.)  Both were in fine voice and helped the audience to experience the beauty of both the words and music.

After intermission, the program concluded with a performance of the Symphony No. 1 in D major (1884-1888), originally entitled "The Titan."  As is the case with any composer writing his first symphony, Mahler struggled mightily with the No. 1 in the fifteen year period between the first tentative sketches completed in 1884 and its publication in 1899.  He was constantly reworking it, creating and then deleting programmatic explanations, first giving it a title and then just as quickly removing it.  Listening to the music, it seems that Mahler was trying to put into it everything he had experienced in his life up to that point - snatches of Songs of a Wayfarer, a funeral march, bird songs, and even a children's nursery rhyme.  No wonder early listeners, including the composer's future wife Alma, were confused and even repelled by what they heard.  But underlying the ceaseless experimentation and accumulation of sources is the sense that this is a work of genius, difficult to comprehend perhaps, but undeniably a masterpiece.  There is a grandeur in this symphony that makes its original title highly appropriate.  It is indeed titanic and a turning point in the history of modern music.  In it lie the seeds of the great symphonies that were to come.

Esa-Pekka Salonen is a talented conductor, but the intricacies of Mahler's music, especially that of the Symphony No. 1, appeared beyond his grasp on Wednesday evening.  This was to me not an entirely satisfying performance (though the audience applauded quite enthusiastically at its conclusion), but I was still able to appreciate the magnificence of Mahler's achievement.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Galerie St. Etienne: "The Woman Question"

Galerie St. Etienne on West 57th Street has been for decades the premiere venue in New York City at which to view masterworks of German Expressionism.  The current exhibit, entitled "The Woman Question," represents a fascinating opportunity to better understand how three of the twentieth century's greatest artists - Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka - approached their female subjects.  Consisting of some seventy-two works, the large majority of them drawings on paper, this comprehensive overview highlights the similarities and differences that existed among the three artists, not only in their respective styles but also in the ways in which they regarded the sexuality of the women who sat for them.

In Gustav Klimt's case, the well written essay that accompanies the exhibit points out quite rightly the dichotomy between his sexless society portraits and his highly erotic drawings, several of which are shown at this exhibit.   With the commissioned portraits, Klimt was using his talent to do what he was paid to do, that is, to create an idealized vision of the sitter, one that was not necessarily his own but one that would appeal to his patron's vanity.  In these highly stylized portraits (one immediately thinks of The Woman in Gold at the Neue Galerie), the artist views his subject from a distance that can never be bridged.  In his drawings, on the other hand, Klimt was working with models on his own social level and was free to pursue his personal vision.  Consequently, there is a much greater sense of intimacy between artist and model.  The fact that these drawings were never meant to be publicly displayed allowed the model to pose with an abandon that stands in stark contrast to the staid manners of proper Viennese society and provides new insight into the period's hidden sexuality.  One has only to compare the 1903 drawings of Adele Bloch-Bauer with such works as Nude Lying on Stomach (1910) and Reclining Nude with Raised Knees (1912-1913) to appreciate the chasm that lay between the social elite and the artistic rebels of the Secession.  Perhaps the most interesting image at the show is the 1898 oil on canvas Moving Water whose fluid forms appear to issue directly from the Freudian unconscious.

Egon Schiele's early death makes any understanding of his own views on sexuality problematic.  It's difficult to determine whether the artist's newfound respectability, acquired through his marriage to Edith Harms and reluctant break with Wally Neuzil (with whom he had hoped to continue a relationship), was the result of a sincere desire for bourgeois respectability or simply a passing reaction to the chaos that enveloped Austria following the outbreak of World War I.  A letter written to Arthur Roessler in which Schiele stated: "I intend to get married, advantageously. Not to Wally." inclines one to believe that the artist acted from ulterior motives.  Moreover, the death of Schiele's father from syphilis when the artist was still an adolescent must have had a profound impact on his sexuality.  Certainly sex figures prominently in Schiele's early work.  How prominently can be seen at the present exhibit in the 1911 watercolor The Red Host, a self-portrait dominated by an oversize penis lovingly fondled by a model significantly placed beneath the artist.  Stylistically, Schiele's loosely rendered drawings from this period have much in common with Klimt's own pencil drawings.  This has been emphasized at the exhibit by the placement of Schiele's Reclining Nude with Raised Legs (1914) directly beside Klimt's above mentioned Nude Lying on Stomach (1910).

As Schiele matured, sex became less openly the focus of his work but nonetheless remained implicit within it.  Perhaps the finest example of his art at the current show is Reclining Woman with Green Stockings (1917).  Here it is the model's strong facial expression that is emphasized.  Her eyes stare forth challengingly from the paper's surface and boldly hold the viewer's gaze.  Whether or not the woman was a prostitute, she is entirely cognizant of her sexual allure and acknowledges it openly.  Nothing could be further from the demure expressions depicted in Klimt's society portraits.

Oskar Kokoschka's attitude toward Viennese sexuality is best evidenced by his stormy affair with Alma Mahler.  The exhibit's introductory essay recounts his obsession with this powerful woman, widow of Vienna's most celebrated composer, who flouted tradition in a series of passionate affairs.  The essay goes so far as to refer to Kokoschka's behavior as having "the crazed tenacity of a stalker."  The artist even had a life-size doll made to order to remind him of Alma and to take her place when he could not be with her.  No wonder then that the doctors who examined him after he had been severely wounded in World War I felt that he was of unstable mind (though this impairment didn't keep him from living to the ripe old age of 93).

Stylistically, Kokoschka's work stands apart from that of his two contemporaries.  No matter how tumultuous his personal life, or perhaps precisely because of it, Kokoschka showed far greater restraint in his depictions of his female subjects.  Even in nude studies such as Semi-Nude Reclining Woman (1910) and Standing Nude Girl (1919) there is little overt sensuality, let alone eroticism.  In these studies, and in portraits such as Portrait of Woman with Hand at Chin (c. 1920-1922) and Seated Woman with Raised Right Hand (1931), the figures' awkwardness is emphasized by the rough strokes with which they are drawn.  In Galatea, a late oil on canvas from 1953, the subject's features are fairly frozen in a grimace.  Regarding this work, the introductory essay remarks: "It's hard to imagine falling in love with Kokoschka's Galatea..."  The essay further notes the artist's lack of classical training and his inability to use his lovers as nude models as reasons why the nude has less prominence in his work than in either Klimt's or Schiele's, but I think it also has a great deal to do with the way Kokoschka actually saw the women with whom he came in contact.  There was nothing in them that was to him natural; they were as artificial as the doll he eventually destroyed.

The exhibit, an abridged version of the 2015-2016 show the gallery's co-director Jane Kallir curated for Vienna's Belvedere Museum, continues through June 30, 2017.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Japan Society: A Third Gender

In light of the many controversies now erupting in the US over gender identification - witness the furor over the infamous North Carolina "bathroom bill" - the Japan Society's current exhibit, A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints, is particularly timely.  Through the display of a large number of artworks, the majority of them ukiyo-e woodblock prints dating from the eighteenth century, the exhibit attempts to trace the manner in which gender was viewed in Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate during what is now known as the Edo period.

At the center of the exhibit is the concept of the wakashū, a historical term used to describe adolescent boys.  These youths were distinguished by a specific hairstyle in which the crown of the head was shaven and long forelocks on either side left in place.  No longer children and not yet men, they enjoyed a somewhat amorphous role in Japanese society.  As the Wikipedia article indicates:
"The concept of wakashū contained several partially overlapping elements: an age category between childhood and adulthood; the social role of a pre-adult or adolescent boy, usually conceived of as a subordinate (student, apprentice or protégé); and the idea of the 'beautiful youth', a suitable target for homosexual desire and the subject of wakashūdo, 'the way of youths'."
While the current exhibit explores all these meanings, emphasis is placed more on the term's erotic connotations.  In this regard, it should be noted that wakashū were sexually involved with both men and women.

The show is a large one and takes up several galleries.  (Two of these are devoted to shunga, a form of ukiyo-e that is explicitly sexual, and even pornographic, in content.  These galleries are marked off with a warning that all children must be accompanied by adults.)  The exhibit itself is divided into four distinct parts.  The first deals with the historical context in which the artworks were created and provides means of identifying the wakashū shown within them; the second with the manner in which wakashū were presented as objects of desire; the third with the depiction of wakashū in mitate-e, a subgenre of ukiyo-e in which historical events and classical artworks were parodied; and the fourth with those institutions, such as prostitution and kabuki theater, in which gender roles did not follow traditionally accepted patterns.  

Beyond the sociological implications of the artwork shown, the prints on display are masterpieces of Japanese art and well worth viewing for themselves.  Many of the greatest ukiyo-e artists are represented here.  These include Kuniyoshi and Kobayashi, who later became famous for his prints illustrating the modernization of Japan under the Meiji, but but above all Utamaro, widely admired for his sensitive portrayals of female subjects.

What is most striking in the exhibit is the lack of moral censure against those participating in suggestive and erotic behavior.  The Japanese were never corrupted by the moral hypocrisy that in America forms the legacy of its Puritan forefathers.  Though the Tokugawa shogunate was a thoroughly authoritarian regime, to a large extent it tolerated moral ambiguity in the personal lives of its subjects.  The show provides a glimpse into an alternative reality where gender roles were once a good deal more fluid than they are today, at least here in the US.

The exhibit, organized by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, continues through June 11, 2017.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ensemble Connect Performs Mozart and Beethoven

On Tuesday evening I went to Juilliard for the last time this season to hear Ensemble Connect, the fellowship program jointly sponsored by Juilliard and Carnegie Hall in association with the NYC Department of Education, perform an evening of chamber music.  There were only two works on the program, but they were by the greeatest composers of the Classical era, Mozart and Beethoven.

The program opened with Mozart's String Quintet No. 3 in C major, K. 515 (1787).  Though Mozart in his Haydn Quartets showed himself a master of the genre, I've always considered his string quintets (with an additional viola as the fifth instrument) to be an even greater accomplishment.  It's not clear why Mozart initially approached this form, which was extremely uncommon in the eighteenth century when thinner textures were strongly preferred, but it may have been simply that the increased instrumenation allowed him to work out more fully his musical ideas than was possible with the quartet form.  This would seem to be confirmed by the sheer length of the K. 515's opening movement, It must also be remembered that the composer was himself an expert violist who chose that instrument when playing quartets with Haydn.  He was thus better able to judge the possibilities offered by the viola and to use its low register to stunning effect.  Mozart's appreciation of the different qualities offered by violin and viola had previously formed the basis of his Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364 and he explored them again in the interplay between the two instruments in the quintet's slow andante movement.

The K. 515 was completed only a month before the K. 516 in G minor and the two are a study in contrasts.  While the K. 516 is a truly tragic piece, as the use of the minor key would indicate, the K. 515 is a much brighter and more optimistic work.  This is especially true of the final movement allegro when compared to the adagio that closes the K. 516.  In that regard it may or may not be significant that Mozart wrote both quintets during the same period as Don Giovanni, an opera giocoso that by definition included both humor and tragedy placed one against the other.

The quintet was performed by Mari Lee and Rebecca Anderson, violins, Andrew Gonzalez and Maren Rothfritz, violas, and Madeline Fayette, cello.

After a brief intermission, the program closed with Beethoven's Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20 (1797) for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass.  At the time he composed it, Beethoven was still in his early period and solidifying his repuatation in Vienna as an up-and-coming composer.  The Septet must have seemed to him a perfect vehicle to accomplish this end.  Based on one of Mozart's greatest chamber works, the String Trio, K. 563, composed only nine years before and also in the key of E-flat major, the Septet was never designed to be anything more than a pleasing divertimento of the type the Viennese so much enjoyed.  (Mozart's own trio, though also so designated, was much too profound to merit the term.)  And as such the Septet was entirely successful.  Too much so as far as Beethoven was concerned.  Later in his career, he came to abhor the work because he felt it distracted attention from the far more serious masterpieces that followed it.  Not that the Septet was in any way simplistic.  That Beethoven did not blindly follow the form of the K. 563 can seen in the introductions he wrote to the first and last movements and the substitution of a scherzo for the second minuet.  The result was extremely accomplished while still remaining wholly likeable and pleasant to hear.  As such, it provided a  genial ending to this recital, one that left the audience smiling as they left the hall.

The musicians who performed the Septet were Bixby Kennedy, clarinet, Rémy Taghavi, bassoon, Nicolee Kuester, horn, Adelya Nartadjieva, violin, Maren Rothfritz, viola, Julia Yang, cello, and Lizzie Burns, bass.

In the past, I went very frequently to hear Ensemble Connect (then known as Ensemble ACJW), not only to their performances at Paul Hall but to those given at Weill Recital Hall as well.  Tuesday evening, however, was the first time this season I'd an opportuntiy to attend one of their recitals.  At least part of the reason for this has to do with the ensemble's turnover.   The fellowship program only lasts two years, so the full roster of musicians rotates biannually.  Just as the audience becomes accustomed to hearing one group, it's replaced in its entirety.  This can be disconcerting to audiences who are used to following classical ensembles over long periods, sometimes decades.  It also makes it difficult for the group to develop a distinctive style of its own.  On the other hand, the Ensemble Connect's quality of musicianship is always superb and, of course, it's always refreshing to come across new talents.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Juilliard String Quartet Seminar: Beethoven, Brahms and Bartók

On Friday, I went to Paul Hall to hear another end-of-term recital, this one the highly prestigious Juilliard String Quartet Seminar.  Coached by the entire Juilliard String Quartet (Joseph Lin, Ronald Copes, Roger Tapping and Astrid Schwinn), four ensembles took the stage over the course of two hours, all of them giving peerless performances of quartets written by masters of the genre - Beethoven, Brahms and Bartók.

The first ensemble to come onstage was the Verona String Quartet, consisting of Jonathan Ong and Dorothy Ro, violins, Abigail Rojansky, viola, and Warren Hagerty, cello.  They proceeded to perform Beethoven's String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4 (1799-1800).  This was actually the last of the six to have been written and the only one to have been cast in a minor key.  Some musicologists believe it incorporates material Beethoven had composed while still in Bonn.  The only evidence I could find for this, though, was that no preliminary sketches for the work were ever located among the composer's papers.  While Beethoven was not above recycling his youthful compositions - two passages from the opening movement of the 1785 Piano Quartet in C Major, WoO 36, No. 3, for example, reappear in the first movement of the C major Sonata, Op.2, No. 3 - I do not believe that to have been the case here.  At the time Beethoven composed the Op. 18 quartets he was still standing very much in the shadow of Haydn and Mozart and was here attempting to take his place beside them in a genre at which they had excelled.  Beethoven was accordingly exceedingly careful in writing the quartets and worked to the very best of his ability.  They are at once excellent examples of the Classical string quartet and at the same time, in the La Malinconia section of the No. 6, anticipate the Romanticism of the composer's middle period.

The next work was Brahms's String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat major, Op. 67 (1875) as performed by the Callisto String Quartet.  The musicians were Paul Aguilar and Rachel Stenzel, violins, Eva Kennedy, viola, and Hannah Moses, cello.  This was Brahms's third and final quartet.  Unlike the two minor-key pieces that comprise the Op. 51 published two years before, this is a fairly lighthearted cheerful work.  That may have had something to do with the ease with which Brahms composed it in only three months after having agonized over the Op. 51 quartets for roughly twenty years.  The quartet is also notable for the emphasis placed on the viola, particularly in the third movement, this even though the work was dedicated to an amateur cellist.

After a brief intermission, the Belka String Quartet - Beatrice Hsieh and Charles Gleason, violins, John Grigsby, viola, and Daniel Blumhard, cello - performed Bartók's String Quartet No. 3 (1927).  Next to Beethoven's late quartets, I've always considered Bartók's set of six the greatest in the repertoire.  So much attention has been paid to Bartók's pioneering work as an ethnomusicologist that his place as one of music's foremost modernists is sometimes overlooked.  The Quartet No. 3 was the first written after the conclusion of World War I when Bartók's field research had in any event been curtailed by the collapse of the Hungarian empire.  By then Bartók's personal life and career had both taken new directions.  He had divorced his first wife in 1923 and then had quickly married one of his piano students only a few days after having proposed to her.  Around the same time, he concluded his controversial ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin, as well as his two violin sonatas.  It was against this background that he composed the No. 3, the shortest of his string quartets and in many ways the most inventive.  For one, it consisted of only one movement divided into four parts.  The one movement structure necessarily cut back on the amount of thematic material and this in turn allowed for more effective concentration so that the music seems to explode in a single burst. At the same time, Bartók employed a number of instrumental techniques - including pizzicato, col legno and glissando - to compensate for the lack of thematic variety.

The program closed with one of the Razumovsky Quartets, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3 (1808)  It was performed by the Vera String Quartet consisting of Pedro Rodríguez Rodríguez and Patricia Quintero García, violins, Inés Picardo Molares, viola, and Justin Goldsmith, cello.  Although the Razumovsky Quartets were composed only five years after those of the Op. 18, they are completely different in character and outlook.  While the earlier works are those of a protégé attempting to find his own voice, the later works display the self-confidence of a master who knows what he is about and is not unduly troubled if his listeners have difficulty following him.  Count Razumovsky was an accomplished amateur violinist and maintained a permanent string quartet that featured Ignaz Schuppanzigh as first violinist, but even so one has to wonder if he felt he had gotten more than he had bargained for when he first heard the works he had so generously commissioned.  First, there is the dissonance with which the first movement opens before finally "finding" the home key.  That must have been as disconcerting to early audiences as the fugal writing in the final movement.  It's worth mentioning that the third movement is a minuet, a form that was already archaic in the early nineteenth century.  It's as though Beethoven were here giving a final nod here to his Classical roots before moving on once and for all.  In any event, the quartet provided the perfect ending to a brilliant recital.

The most polished performance of the afternoon was to my mind that of the Verona Quartet who are this month ending their stint as Juilliard's Graduate Resident String Quartet.  In that position, as Lisa Arnhold Fellows, they assisted the Juilliard String Quartet in providing chamber music education to students.  I had an opportunity to briefly chat with cellist Warren Haggerty at intermission regarding Beethoven's quartets and found him an extremely knowledgeable and engaging person.  I sincerely appreciate the time he took to share with me his thoughts on the music.