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Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg*

The Ariel Quartet

Alexandra Kazovsky, violin
Gershon Gerchikov,
violin
Jan Grüning,
viola
Amit Even-Tov,
cello

Thomas Storm, baritone

Sunday, August 23, 2015, 4 pm

program

“Razumovsky” String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (1806)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Allegro
Adagio molto
Allegretto
Finale: Presto

Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Dance
Eccentric
Canticle

intermission

Dover Beach (1931)
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11 (1871)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Moderato e semplice
Andante cantabile
Allegro non tanto e con fuoco
Allegro giusto

 

next week

Friday, August 28, 7 pm | Actors & Writers
A reading of Paddy Chayevsky’s Middle of the Night

Saturday, August 29, 8 pm | Frederic Chiu and Andrew Russo, piano four hands
Music of Schubert, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)

Sunday, August 30, 4 pm | Borromeo String Quartet
Music of Haydn, Beethoven, and Gunther Schuller (b. 1925)


 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Characterized by its brilliant playing and soulful interpretations, the Ariel Quartet has quickly earned a glowing international reputation. The Quartet was formed in Israel sixteen years ago when its members were students, and they have been playing together ever since. Recently awarded the prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award, the Quartet serves as the faculty quartet-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, where they direct the chamber music program and perform their own annual series of concerts.

The Ariel Quartet performs widely in North America, Europe, and Israel, including two record-setting Beethoven cycles last season. The Ariel continues to astonish with its performances of complete works by memory, and has remained committed to performing extensively in Israel. In addition, the Ariel has collaborated with the pianist Orion Weiss; violist Roger Tapping; cellist Paul Katz; and the American and Jerusalem String Quartets. The Quartet toured with the cellist Alisa Weilerstein during the 2013-14 season, and performs regularly with the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler. Additionally, the Ariel was quartet-in-residence for the Steans Music Institute at the Ravinia Festival, the Yellow Barn Music Festival, and the Perlman Music Program.

Formerly the resident ensemble in the New England Conservatory’s Professional String Quartet Training Program, the Ariel has won a number of international prizes including the Grand Prize at the 2006 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and First Prize at the international competition “Franz Schubert and the Music of Modernity” in Graz, Austria, in 2003. After they won in 2007 the Székely Prize for their performance of Bartók and the overall third prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition, the American Record Guide described the Ariel Quartet as “a consummate ensemble gifted with utter musicality and remarkable interpretive power” and called their performance of Beethoven’s Op. 132 “the pinnacle of the competition.”

The Quartet has received extensive scholarship support throughout its studies in the United States from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, Dov and Rachel Gottesman, the Legacy Heritage Fund, and the A. N. and Pearl G. Barnett Family Foundation.

Thomas Storm, baritone, studied at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music and the Opera Academy at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. He has, in a few years, established himself as one of the most sought-after baritones in Denmark. Storm has sung major roles in traditional and modern operas all over Denmark. In 2013 he was appointed Carl Nielsen Artist by the Odense Symphony Orchestra, singing Nielsen’s third symphony, Espansiva, and giving a number of recitals with Nielsen’s songs, broadcast live on Danish Radio.

In concert he has also sung Carmina Burana with various orchestras in Denmark, as well as the Brahms Requiem, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and other major works. He is an advocate for bringing opera to children, and has performed children’s opera and children’s concerts with the Danish National Opera and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.


ABOUT THE MUSIC

Beethoven’s three string quartets of Opus 59 were commissioned by and dedicated to Count Andreas Kirillovich Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna and one of Beethoven’s principal supporters. Beethoven’s music was becoming highly individualistic and innovative, and he was developing his unique way of establishing a motive—a short musical phrase—and then developing large segments of a composition out of that motive. Beethoven’s motives were not just melodic, they also established distinct rhythmic patterns.

The String Quartet Op. 59, No. 2, in E Minor starts with two intense chords and a long, suspenseful measure of rest. Beethoven is presenting the silences between the notes as integral parts of the whole. The movement (Allegro) is filled with rhythmic interest—dotted rhythms, syncopations, and dramatic pauses—in between long runs and melodic passages. Its 3/4 time signature gives it a dancing feeling, creating a contrast with the intensity of the musical gestures.

The second movement (Molto adagio) provides a dreamy respite. The composer Carl Czerny, a friend and pupil of Beethoven, wrote: “The Adagio, E major, in the second Razumovsky Quartet, occurred to him when contemplating the starry sky and thinking of the music of the spheres.” The first violin and cello are given especially lyrical lines. Momentary chords of angst interrupt, but the serene calm returns, and the final descending run is passed down from the violin to each instrument in turn.

The Allegretto is in the form of a scherzo, with the extra repeats of which Beethoven was becoming so fond. Here dotted rhythms and sustained syncopation predominate. In the trio section, Beethoven introduces a Russian folk hymn called “Slava.” The story that Count Razumovsky asked Beethoven to use Russian tunes is unconfirmed, but this one is clearly marked Thème Russe in the manuscript. This same theme was used by Modest Mussorgsky in his opera Boris Godunov.

The finale (Presto) continues the relentless dotted rhythms. The three lower instruments set up a galloping accompaniment while the first violin sings a tripping tune above them. Once again the motive is rhythmic as well as melodic. Near the end of the movement, Beethoven gives symmetry to the overall composition by inserting full measures of rest like the dramatic pauses at the opening of the first movement. The end is marked più presto, and the galloping becomes a race to the finish.

Igor Stravinsky was the private student of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) during the last three years of that composer’s life. Stravinsky’s early works caught the attention of Serge Diaghilev, and he asked Stravinsky to compose works for his Ballets Russe, then in residence in Paris. In three years, Stravinsky composed The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring—which was so shockingly innovative that there was a near riot at its premiere.

Stravinsky wrote his Three Pieces for String Quartet the year after the Rite of Spring. Critics found them incomprehensible. The first piece has a melody of just four notes, played by the first violin in varying rhythms. Each instrument uses a specific technique of producing sound: the first violin plays with long bow strokes; the second violin uses short strokes near the frog (the part of the bow closest to the player’s hand); the viola plays a single note ponticello (near the bridge, giving it a shrill sound), and also plucks strings with the left hand; and the cello plucks a repeated (ostinato) figure.

Stravinsky wrote that the second piece, later titled Eccentric, was inspired by “the eccentric movements and postures of the great clown, Little Tick,” whom he had seen in London. The music limps and jerks in imitation of the clown.

The composer said that the third piece, Canticle, is “choral and religious in character.” The hushed and simple chant-like melody is punctuated by faster, louder passages, just as, in a church service, the choral chant would be interspersed with passages sung by a soloist or a smaller choir.

Although he later dismissed much of the music written in his early days, Samuel Barber always remained attached to Dover Beach, which he gave the number Opus 3. Barber had a fine baritone voice, and performed this piece in a concert that was attended by Vaughan Williams. The composer came up to Barber afterwards and encouraged him to continue his musical career.

In the unusual chamber grouping of vocalist and string quartet, Barber depicts the motion of the waves with a repetitive string ostinato. The poem, by Matthew Arnold, sets a dreamy scene, not revealing the somber nature of the description until the end of the first verse. The last three lines of the poem are accompanied by the instrumental music from the opening, making the “darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms” into the equivalent of the relentless waves upon the shore.

Tchaikovsky was a composer torn between traditions. The Germans thought him too Russian, and the Russian nationalists considered him a sellout for adhering to Western European techniques of musical composition. Although he was well versed in classical forms, he often adapted those forms in the service of melody and expressiveness, and he often employed Russian folk tunes as themes in his compositions.

The String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, was written specifically for a concert to promote the composer’s work, and Tchaikovsky was showing his compositional capabilities. The first movement is given both a metrical marking (Moderato) and a description (semplice—simple). All four instruments play the opening theme together—the simplest possible exposition. After this, each instrument seems to take its own direction. The music increases in complexity and intensity, occasionally returning to some form of the initial simple presentation.

The main theme of the slow movement (Andante cantabile) became instantly popular after its first performance, and has remained so up to this day. Tchaikovsky was actually concerned about its popularity, since he did not write the tune—it came from a Russian folk song. But he need not have worried, since it is his treatment of the tune that imbues it with its enduring charm.

In the scherzo (Allegro non tanto e con fuoco—not too fast, with fire), syncopations and cross-accents add an exotic, Russian feeling to the dance. The central Trio continues the syncopation, adding a melodious theme to the mix. The scherzo section is, as usual, reprised to end the movement.

The finale (Allegro giusto) is fairly lengthy, and has numerous sections. The first theme is bright and uses a dotted rhythm, while the second, introduced by the viola, is more lyrical. These themes are reworked, rewoven, and re-modulated many times. The music seems to reach a climax several times, only to start again with a new perspective. At the very end, the tempo takes off for the emphatic finish.




All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg.
It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy, publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at miriam@hvc.rr.com.

Program Notes © 2015 by Miriam Villchur Berg