Tuesday 16. november 1999

Marathon with master quartet

Dramatic and dreamy playing by the American Coolidge Quartet

Musicharvest 99

The scope was widespread at the four hour -almost uninterrupted - concert marathon which finished the Musicharvest. Of genre, of style and of quality. What will be remembered?

Two things shall probably remain: a mental note is made of the young American Coolidge Quartet for future use. Here is a basis of extraordinairy expectations, and this first visit ought unconditionally to be followed up. And moreover, the 74-year old Gunther Schuller will be remembered as a jovial, masterful conductor of the enlarged big band of The Funen Music Conservatory in exquisite classical jazz-arrangements by J. J. Johnson, John Lewis and Gil Evans – music, the birth of which, he has had at closest quarters. Especially the refined suite on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess by the last-named was a delight to the ear.

But the students also met their match in Schuller’s own music – the short flourishing ouverture movement of Gala Music from 1966, and not least, the beastly difficult Symphony for Brass and Percussion from 1950. The piece calls for a brilliant performance, and here we had to be content with less, but there was clearly talk about a dazzlingly well-composed work by a young man of 25 years, who completely knew what is what. His already by that time atonal way of composing is here arranged into a strict symphonic development, neo-classical of spirit, but not of style.The six Schuller works of the festival have born the impress of thorough, superb craftsmanship and a high level of inspiration.

He may not be a visionary new-thinker, but seems never to be short of good ideas giving a new energy to the music, often with a surprising twist. That is the case, to a high degree of the thirteen year old Third String Quartet, a fine and eventful work, which the Coolidge Quartet played magnificently: dramatic in the rather rough outer movements with their violent energy, great contrasts and flourishing soli, moving beauty of sound and fervent dreaminess in the canzona in between.

The rhythmical virtuosity had its riches of humour in its tapering in John Adams’ "John’s Book of Alleged Dances", ten more or less crazy charactermovements with and without breakdance-like sampler accompani-ment. They are inventively entertaining material samples, but however spastic the rhythm carries on, they are even without the sampler tied to a strict metronomic tempo, which in the long run seems not only soulless, but also bodyless.

This may be the most important difference to a composer like Anders Koppel, whose two year old First String Quartet is also highly aimed at giving an immediate joy of refined rhythmical and sonorous playfulness. But to Koppel, an active rhythmical musician, the vivid life of the music is just as important as fixed design. He is no creator of style like Adams, composes like Schuller in a classical craftsman-tradition and opposite to this one within clearly tonal frames, and on these conditions he has created a deliciously thoroughly prepared, optimistic, but by no means thin quartet, which must be wonderful to play.

In any case, it is a pleasure to listen to in such a flyingly elegant and temperamental performance as this one. It was not Crossover which someone might have expected from Koppel.

Jan Jacoby