Pacifica Quartet illuminates familiar fare at UC’s Logan Center

Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 1:20 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Pacifica Quartet performed Sunday at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Photo: Laurence Baker

The Pacifica Quartet may now be headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana, rather than Urbana, but, fortunately they also remain resident performing artists at the University of Chicago, which guarantees a few appearances each season for their many  local fans.

The Pacifica’s well-attended concert Sunday afternoon at the Logan Center for the Arts was delivered on the same high level one has come to expect from the celebrated ensemble. The event also offered another impressive test drive for the University of Chicago’s new hall, and the clear, transparent and natural sound again made manifest what a first-class chamber venue Chicago now has in the Logan Center.

That said, one wishes the group had brought a more interesting program with some works new to their repertory. Since their acclaimed Shostakovich cycle at Roosevelt University two seasons ago, with the move to Indiana and increased international travel, the Pacifica seems to be losing some of their repertorial adventurousness, at least in their Chicago concerts. Why, for instance, couldn’t they have brought Keeril Makan’s Return here, a work the group premiered in Boston in October, rather than the familiar Haydn and Ravel chestnuts on display Sunday?

That said, Sunday’s performance with a taste of their much-feted Shostakovich as the centerpiece, was stellar by any measure. Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 76, no. 4, made a fine curtain-raiser. The Pacifica’s lean elegant sonority is well suited to this repertoire and they were fully in synch with the light back-and-forth of the opening movement, musical badinage rendered with a Rococo grace. The Adagio–one of Haydn’s most profound quartet inspirations–was beautifully sustained, led by first violinist Simin Gantra, and the rustic bonhomie of the ensuing minuet and light-hearted caprice of the finale just as surely assayed.

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 is one of the least played of his early works in the genre. At times one wanted a bit more robust tone and more of the edge-of-the-seat intensity that accompanied their searing Shostakovich two seasons ago. Still, this was an expressive and deeply felt performance with Ganatra drawing a febrile, cantorial-like quality from her violin solos, and all Pacifica members contributing a spare hushed array of dynamics to the interior pages.

As with all great musicians, the Pacifica members make you feel that each composer plays to their corporate strengths. Ravel’s String Quartet in F major was the highlight of the afternoon, with the musicians, led by Ganatra’s silvery tone, capturing the elliptical mystery and relaxed introspection of the music without special pleading. Throughout one was aware of the ensemble drawing from a deeper and darker well than one usually hears in this work. The performance at times seemed revelatory, as with the surprising sense of depth in the middle section of the second movement and the bleak desolation of the viola and cello solos in the Tres lent.

The Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio will perform music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Andre Previn 7:30 p.m. February 22 at Mandel Hall.; 773-702-2787

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One Response to “Pacifica Quartet illuminates familiar fare at UC’s Logan Center”

  1. Posted Feb 19, 2013 at 9:54 am by jizungu

    I’ve been a huge fan of Pacifica for years; the first music I heard them play, in a recital at Lutkin Hall in Evanston (back when you could hear them for a few bucks), was a Haydn quartet, which in their hands sounded so fresh it knocked me off my seat.

    But one of the most exciting experiences they’ve given me (other than that Shostakovich cycle) was an Elliot Carter, some years back. Not a composer I ordinarily listen to, but they made me sit up and take notice.

    So I agree with you about the programming. On Saturday night they played a poorly advertised concert in Nichols Concert Hall; I was happy when they announced from the stage a program change, substituting the Bartok #6 for Smetana’s “From My Life.” I suppose Bartok is not terribly innovative fare, but it is relatively unknown to me, and their rendition of the sardonic third mov’t, leading poignantly into the dark final elegy, was especially moving. I also enjoyed the Beethoven op 132.

    Still, I wonder at the tendency of concert programmers to ghettoize contemporary music. The Pacifica is known for championing new music, but if I want to hear them play any, I need to attend the “Contempo” series at UChicago. They’d be doing their audiences a big favor if they showed more willingness to mix things up in their non-specialized programs.

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