Sunday, December 6, 2009

Enduring Enigmas

5 – 6 December 2009

Before I descend utterly into the realm of the senses – specifically, those of taste and smell, I have to say that I’m still under the spell of something that went far beyond the olfactory and well into the realm of the idea pure (and never exactly simple), or simply figure, beguiling and ultimately enigmatic, all the while drawing us whole and sensually into its sonic architecture, ‘narrative’, tapestry – long before Duchamp served up his own ‘anti-olfactory’ and, against all protests to the contrary, stubbornly retinal, enigmatic art.

Listening to the Beethoven string quartets once, twice – and we can go on from there – always reminds us that we must listen to many of them again – though when exactly we can never say, and sometimes that day threatens to never return. It’s like re-reading (or simply finishing for some of us) Proust, Shakespeare, Mann, Joyce, etc. We never seem to get around to it. Fortunately, they appear from time to time on the radio, pulled out from stacks of CDs, etc.; though moving, through one’s everyday tasks or agendas, our attention may be drawn away – which is why there’s nothing quite like hearing them in one focused sitting, or sometimes better still, in live performance. Last night, it was the Opus 131 C-sharp minor quartet – that slightly rambling (though intense) essay (I want to say ‘quasi-fantasia’ – as with that other famous C# minor work) through several loosely related, sometimes simple but infinitely subtle themes, variations and moods – as performed by the Takács Quartet. I’ve had Handel on my brain a bit lately, as I’ve noted here; but listening to something of this scope, intensity and invention reminds us that the leap from Handel (or Bach) to Beethoven (a relatively brief time span) is like that from Newton to Einstein. Also, how, in that wildly free-form classicism that is his alone – how utterly modern Beethoven remains here and now in the post-serial/atonal/polytonal landscape of the 21st century; a fact brought home by the Quartet’s dazzling performance of Bartok’s polytonal/atonal (frequently near-atonal in its complex chromatic harmonies) String Quartet No. 4. The Takács Quartet has a special affinity for Bartok – especially his predilection for the pizzicato (an extremely percussive pizzicato, I might add) – and the quartet’s incidents and inversions, call-and-response thematic schemes and rhythms and and chromatic symmetries were aired with intensity and dazzling clarity.

Fun, huh? (The program – speaking of that ‘Newton-Einstein leap’ – began with Haydn (Op.71, No.1 quartet in B-flat major.) As readers of this blog are probably aware, this recital was part of an on-going series hosted by the ACE Gallery – at their Beverly Hills gallery – in its main, central gallery – an excellent, intimate, if acoustically imperfect space for this kind of music. The art on the walls right now is John Millei’s – about which I won’t say anything at the moment if for no other reason than the show hasn’t actually opened (at least I don’t think it has). It’s impressive; but – well you tell me – Duchamp (or Rembrandt or Raphael, etc.) would have a hard time standing up to the Beethoven Opus 131.

I went there straight (or almost) from Barneys – no shit – where I’d gone to look for a special edition of colors for MAC produced by…. Now that I’ve gone on, still under the spell of late Beethoven (and a beautiful gray afternoon in Los Angeles), I’m going to save this for later… oh yeah, I know what you’re thinking – at least those of you who read Artillery. “Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot”? as they say in military parlance (has everyone read the front page piece of the Sunday New York Times?). All right. Well, I’ll tell you. Later – it’s not as simple as you think (it really isn’t). And so I like to look at shoes (believe me it’s more looking than buying) and furry hats – so what? Okay, gotta, uh, finish reading the papers.