When recording a CD (except for live, one-performance takes) a musician’s quiet terror is that everything can be done again. This can result in performances that are stitched together, note perfect and sonically magnificent but gutless. In concert life, the adrenalin rushes incessesantly because nothing can be reclaimed—it’s now or never (or, at least, until the next performance). All the more reason to savour historic live recordings and broadcasts (anyone familiar with Fritz Reiner’s Chicago Symphony discs of Richard Strauss tone poems has proof positive of the latter, while those laden with Karajan’s self-serving Beethoven DVDs will realize just how “empty” multi-take productions can be).
And so, having reviewed the Eybler Quartet’s live performance of their namesake’s Op. 1, No. 2 and their recently released CD of the trio of works that complete this mini-cycle, it was with heightened interest that I arrived at Rodman Hall to partake of Op. 1, No. 3, er, in the flesh (cross-references below).
On balance, the digital rendering scores higher. Clearly, the acoustics of Humbercrest United Church (a.k.a. “The Studio”) coupled with recording engineer Ron Searles’ deft touch and unlimited opportunities to tame the guts (the Quartet opts to use original “tension” to remain faithful to what long-ago listeners would hear if not what the “if-only-I-had-steel-strings” composer had imagined) yields a more faithful rendition than the vagaries of can’t-ever-stop playing and audience clatter (bless the woman who left us when her coughs provided unexpected punctuation to the early going) could hope to. Still, the surprisingly absent lack of “lift” left the four movements heavier than imagined.
After the interval, veteran cellist Myron Lutzke joined the intrepid artists for an emotionally-rich, committed reading of Schubert’s sublime C Major String Quintet. His extra voice and sympathetic bass pushed everyone on both sides of the equation into a higher musical sphere. But let’s understand that, from a compositional point of view, Eybler’s efforts reside more than a tad below those of Salieri-to-Mozart when put up side-by-side with the most gifted melodist ever.
Self-avowed proponents of "authenticism," the heavenly lengths of the “Adagio” drifted into memory (the last measures truly unforgettable) only to be interrupted by another dose of “find that ‘a’” and the sprightly launch of the incredible “Scherzo.” The twenty-first century then made a most unwanted appearance by the arrival of a photographer “on assignment” who was permitted entry, allowed to stalk the performers, then unleash a series of camera clicks that couldn’t find a down beat much less add to our enjoyment (note to photog: “silent” equipment does exist). Not to be outdone, a cane crash and an unprepared child’s bubble gum popped (note to parents: it’s great to have your children attend; Why not coach them on what to expect and how to behave before entering the hall of shared experience?) to add to the—sadly—entirely authentic present-day cacophony, before your tireless servant “shushed” Karsh-of-the-Welland and sent him scurrying away with a stare that would do “She Who Must Be Obeyed Honour.”
Of course, the show did go on and many memorable moments still awaited (not least of which was the unabashed angst and power of the “Allegretto’s” opening), but the jury’s still out on whether the trade off of unwanted “noise emissions” is worth the risk when a first-rate recording of the same music remains “on demand” in the quiet of our own homes. JWR