The Stradivarius String Quartet, which is again making Harvard its headquarters this year, has been touring House Common-rooms for several weeks with its performances of chamber-music. Tuesday night at Leverett House it played a program very likely to be repeated at the Fogg Wednesday evening, which included an early Beethoven quartet, a Schumann quartet, and a quartet by the contemporary talent Martinu. This followed out their usual policy of playing at each concert one classical, one romantic, and one modern quartet. The players made sure to place their modern offering in the middle: doubtless they were afraid of shocking the audience with it in the beginning, or leaving too peculiar a taste in their mouths at the end.
A friend of mine in high-school once had the habit of peppering his exampapers with little academic witticisms, (partly in order to raise his grade). He got one paper back totally uncorrected, except for the single terse remark: "Clover--but not true." This one phrase well strikes the effect of the Martinu quartet. It was dazzlingly clever. As far as I could see, it capitalized on every music sure-fire ever invented: catchy, inclusive rhythms, abrupt changes in tempo, wild polytonality, a string technique which graded off from whole pages of unbearably shrill violin-chatter at some times to a Brahmsian luxuriance at others; to boot, reams of discordant counterpoint and impressively dull masses of sound. The quartet was musical sleight-of-hand personified, and it oozed cleverness. But it didn't ring true. Its themes bickered away in endless mediocrity, in a ceaseless spewing forth of notes and more notes--the whole thing suggestive of some mediaeval theologian spinning his scholastic cobwebs out of a decrepit, hacked-over text. It was most strongly suggestive, however, of four extremely competent musicians going through a terrific technical work-out.
On the other hand, the Schumann A major quartet that the Stradivarius men played, did ring true. Not one of Schumann's greatest works, like all his work, it diffused a fresh lyrical charm which was a pleasure to listen to after the nervous pyrotechnics of the Martinu quartet.
For the benefit of those who are interested, I repeat here Rachmaninoff's Sunday afternoon program (which, may I add, is a typical Rachmaninoff program in its popular glitter and lack of musicianly interest): Organ Prelude and Fugue, Bach; a Mendelssohn Rondo; a Chopin Nocturne and two Mazurkas; the Sonetto del Petraca and the Rhapsody No. 11 of Liszt, and Beethoven's Sonata Apparrionata, as well as several compositions of Rachmaninoff's own