Calder Quartet handles last minute changes with aplomb

The Calder Quartet, known for its adventuresome virtuosity, is equally at home with last minute need

LAKE LUZERNE — The Calder Quartet, known for its adventuresome virtuosity, is equally at home with last minute needs for versatility. That was clear Monday night at the Luzerne Chamber Music Series: The quartet had to replace its cellist just days earlier, which necessitated a complete change of the scheduled program.

Joining violinists Benjamin Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook and violist Jonathan Moerschel was Moerschel’s father, Joel, a cellist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was filling in for Eric Byers, who was on new fatherhood duties. Instead of a program of Ades, Janacek and Beethoven, the crowd got Mozart’s Quartet in G Major, Ravel’s Quartet, and Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.

Not only did Joel Moerschel fit in seamlessly, but the program sounded as if the group had been in rehearsals for weeks. The Mozart was a bit of a warm-up, but the other two works were superbly performed with wonderful intent, technical mastery, and everything else of the highest order. It’s no wonder the group recently received the Avery Fisher Career Grant.

The Mozart is one of his most cheerful with light, buoyant melodies, some interesting syncopation in the second movement, and appealing harmonies throughout. While the players took time to adjust in the long first movement, their high technical level was apparent. Details such as accents and diverse articulations were clearly enunciated, the quartet’s tone was pure and there was excellent ensemble. Excellent pitch allowed for perfect unison passages. The finale’s fast romp was a satisfying conclusion.

Ravel’s marvelously sensuous and haunting Quartet was on another level. The Calder was in a zone, totally inside the music. The players performed with great intensity, almost in a rhapsodic fashion, to create Ravel’s ephemeral, frothy lines. There was a real sense of controlled freedom.

Throughout the four movements, they often played on the top of their tones in the softer passages to create exquisite delicacy or dug in for the more lush sections. The second movement had lovely swirling movement against exotic tremolos and plucking. The contemplative slower third with its many moments of silence had good pacing and strong phrasing. The fiery fast finale was like an evening with flitting fireflies and floral scents. It was superb playing.

Schubert’s equally masterful quartet, whose slower chorale-like movement is a theme and variations based on his own song, “Death and the Maiden,” received a dramatic, high energy performance. The Calder’s tone was more full and vigorous spaced over a wide range of dynamics, yet phrases were allowed to breathe and built to brilliant climaxes. It ended in a whirlwind of a gallop that brought the crowd to its feet.

The next concert on the series is Monday.

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