Escher String Quartet
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Brahms: String Sextet in B-flat Major, Op. 18

I smelled perfume as I walked down Draper Street toward Sherwood Auditorium. It worried me at first. When you're going to a concert, one of the last things you want is to be next to the heavily scented. I can't decide if the loud breather or the perfumed lady is the true concert pariah.

Whatever the case, my worries were baseless and the concert smelled fine. It was low tide and stronger odors filled the air. I have no idea why I'm obsessing over scent.

I was in La Jolla for Summerfest, presented by The La Jolla Music Society. The concert theme on Saturday night was Viennese Masters. The masters for this evening were Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms.

Beethoven never, ever, ceases to amaze me. Almost any composer you can think of has some chinks in their compositional armor. Do you know what I mean? There are times when a great composer will write something that seems unworthy of the rest of their output.

Shall I provide some examples? How about the conclusion of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. That domestic theme simply doesn’t fit considering the rest of the symphony. How about all of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9? Tchaikovsky, the 1812 Overture. Puccini, almost all of Ping, Pang, and Pong’s music from Turandot. Verdi, “boom-chuck-chuck” much?

Before you protest, I’m not saying those are bad pieces of music. What I am saying is that Beethoven never seems to be anything less than Beethoven. His Serenade in D Major for Flute, Violin and Viola, Opus 25 was no exception.

The performers were Catherine Ransom Karoly of flute with Augustin Hadelich on violin and violist Ori Kam. I have a feeling that this performance was indicative of what is to come for the rest of the month during Summerfest. The performance was of such a caliber that the performers themselves almost disappeared and there was only Beethoven.

The same thing happened with the Schubert quartet and the Brahms sextet. The performances are so refined, so polished, so energetic and so perfect that the music is revealed as itself. That’s awfully philosophical.

Another way to put it is that during the concert I never thought, “Wow, this is a great performance.” Instead I kept thinking, “Wow, this is great music.” I think that is the goal, isn’t it?

I could write something cliche about the Escher String Quartet such as, “rare tonal beauty,” “profound musical technique,” or some other platitude that is utterly meaningless. Rare and profound as compared to what? Other string quartets? Who cares?

Allow me to put it this way. The Escher String Quartet hung out with Schubert on Saturday night and let us audience members join. You should have been there.

Same thing goes for the six performers of the Brahms, except — obviously — they were hangin’ with Brahms instead of Schubert.

From what I’ve heard, Schubert was much more the party animal than Brahms. Brahms was always skulking in the corner staring at Clara like some creeper. That might not be historically accurate.

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