DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Quartet Choreography – The Kreutzer Quartet (2012)

A rather weak concept premise doesn’t disguise some fine playing.

Published on February 2, 2013

Quartet Choreography

STRAVINSKY: 3 Pieces for String Quartet; LUTOSLAWSKI: String Quartet; LIGETI: String Quartet No. 2; FINNISSEY: Second String Quartet
Performers: Kreutzer Quartet
Director: Colin Still
Studio: Metier msvdx101, 2012 double sided DVD10 disc (PAL and NTSC) [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 Color
Audio: PCM stereo
All Regions
Length: 76 minutes
Rating: ***1/2:

“The Mechanics of the playing and the communication of the players are what create the art: this DVD captures the essence of the quartet.”

This pretentious little blurb is found on the back of this DVD, a video ostensibly made to demonstrate the idea that “music should also be seen”, as Igor Stravinsky said, that it is able to communicate not only by the listening but by the watching as well. Whether the movements of the bow, the expression on the player’s faces, the various techniques used that make the visual aspect of playing varied and adventurous, the interaction of the players, and the perspective of the audience all goes into this total visual impact of how we perceive and experience music. Or does it? It might seem somewhat contradictory that Stravinsky also said, famously, “I consider that music, by its very nature, is essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc. . . . Expression has never been an inherent property of music.” So the visuals are able to add to this dimension? Makes little sense to me. But the Kreutzer Quartet has picked four pieces by as many composers and worked with their directors to produce a video that seeks to demonstrate the choreographic nature of these works. Does it work? No, not really, no more than watching an orchestra play Bolero and seeing the violin section strum their instruments like guitars. Visuals form part and parcel of every performance of course, but this video adds new dimensions to the angles we look at, and even there an artificial dimension comes into play; most people are stuck in their seats and see a performance from one angle only. To open it up to others in order to make some kind of point about performance choreography introduces something that has to be considered extracurricular in terms of normal concert viewing experience.

So as usual it all comes down to one thing—the music. Each piece here, with the exception of the Michael Finnissey has long entered into the standard “modern” repertoire, meaning for ensembles that focus on modern music these are now accepted and pretty old hat. And they are worth it—each piece is unique and highly creative in its own right, a fine example of quartet literature of the last century. The Kreutzer is highly adept in its performance of each work, and gives us a concert well worth hearing. If this program, in excellent stereo sound, appeals, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for in-depth explorations of the visual dimension of musical experience, you will get what you give—there is really nothing more to add.

—Steven Ritter

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