Last night I heard the latest incarnation of the Juilliard String Quartet in recital at Alice Tully Hall. The program included performances of Mendelssohn’s first String Quartet and the juggernaut that is Beethoven’s Op. 130 with the Grosse Fuge finale, both pieces performed with suavity rather than abundant risk-taking. The highlight was the quartet’s New York premiere of Mario Davidovsky’s Sixth String Quartet, “Fragments.”
Davidovsky’s description of the quartet is accurate in that it includes fragments of motivic material that are juxtaposed in a variety of ways. However, it is anything but fragmentary in terms of the consistent feeling of a long line’s presence and persistent through thought. The Quartet demonstrates the composer’s early experiences as a string player and knowledge of contemporary techniques, with all manner of harmonics, dampening, tapping, slapping, and regular pizzicatos set against the famous Bartók pizzicato. Davidovsky’s 6th is a beautiful piece that deserves a place alongside Carter’s 5th Quartet and Shapey’s 9th as a stirring example of a composers’ late style in the current era.