Review: Harlem Quartet proves order counts 

click to enlarge Harlem String Quartet
  • Harlem String Quartet

What happens when - half an hour before their concert is scheduled to begin - the performers discover they left the music of one of their program's three works back at their hotel on Indy's far Northside? The Ensemble Music Society president quickly dispatched a "runner" to retrieve the Harlem String Quartet's scores while nimbly negotiating our streets without garnering a speeding ticket. Jazz composer Chick Corea's string quartet entitled The Adventures of Hippocrates (2004) was the forgotten item. To play it safe, the program's two halves were switched such that it became the final offering.

And that ordering was thus regrettable, as the four-movement Hippocrates falls into that unhappy no-man's land between jazz and modernism, failing to convince in either one. As announced from the stage, the movements are titled "tango," "waltz," "funk" and "Bach fugue-like." While the rhythms for the first two were spot on, the final two were a wandering mish mash, with no fugal structure really heard. This was a crossover piece that got stuck in the middle.

Mozart's Quartet No. 15 in D Minor, K. 421, preceding the Corea, had been scheduled to begin the program. The second of the six quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn, it is certainly mature Mozart, perhaps a bit less inspired than his No. 14 and No. 16, but with a strong minuet and trio. The Harlem players - violinists Ilmar Gavilán and Melissa White; violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez; and cellist Paul Wiancko - gave it a well polished reading with good balance among the four and a tendency toward being lean-toned.

The latter performance element had a worse effect on Schubert's great "Death and the Maiden" Quartet (No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810), played first but scheduled last. Filled with impassioned drama (rhythmically including the Beethoven Fifth's four-note "fate" motive) inseparably linked with supreme Schubertian melody, the 40-minute work lacked a vibrant sonority in the sustained lines. The Harlem ensemble thus gave us their best playing in the two fast outer movements. I imagine they'll never forget a score again. March 14 at the Indiana History Center.

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Tom Aldridge

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