Think of a sandwich where something that may or may not be in your tasting wheelhouse is surrounded by the “staff of life.” You’ll either appreciate the experience or yearn for something more familiar.
Musical “sandwich” programming is an art where favorite pieces provide the entrance to and the exit from works, historically important or not, that invite exploration which may or may not be the listener’s cup of tea.
The Auryn Quartet’s performance Tuesday in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans Music Hall was a well thought-out sample of the art. You had top-notch, long-time favorite scores by Franz Joseph Haydn (the first quartet from that composer’s opus 77) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (his “Dissonant” quartet in C major) bracketing Igor Stravinsky’s brief “Three Pieces for String Quartet” and Bela Bartok’s longer second quartet.
In a pre-concert talk with Andreas Arndt, the group’s cellist, WNED’s Peter Hall asked Arndt to “Help me (to) love Bartok” and noted that Stravinsky’s piece was “not the neo-classical style we like.” During the intermission, just after the Haydn and Bartok openers, an audience member walking down the aisle was heard to say, “The Haydn would be a heck of a lot easier to sing on the way home.”
Arndt noted that the opening bars of Mozart’s quartet, with their initial lack of harmony and fixed key, was quite radical for its time and probably disturbed some of his audience. The point in this instance was that the passage of time could make a difference in how a work is valued/heard.
That said, the concert had all the performance virtues one could wish for. The Auryn Quartet has been around for more than 30 years without any turnover in personnel and has developed a cohesive approach to repertoire that serves the music well. Its take on Haydn’s masterpiece was delightful and the closing version of Mozart’s quartet (part of a set dedicated to Haydn), with its wonderfully played third movement, was marvelously warm, welcoming, and intellectually rigorous at the same time.
Bartok was given his due with a performance that emphasized the composer’s intensity and expressive power, especially in the finale, while Stravinsky’s brief trio of rhythms and tonal shadings were spiky reflections of folk roots viewed through a sonic prism.
At the end of the evening, the audience delivered a standing ovation for several minutes, enticing the group to come back on stage for a brief encore. Whether the bulk of the crowd was entirely happy with the selection of works heard was debatable, but there are those of us who were more than satisfied with the results.
The Auryn Quartet
Tuesday evening in Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall as part of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series.