Haydn: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No 3, "Emperor"
Szymanowski: String Quartet No 2, Op. 56
Mendelssohn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44, No 1
After the Czechs, then came the Poles! On my second trip to the Library of Congress this week, I was getting ready to hear another much praised string quartet from Eastern Europe and very much looking forward to an eclectic program that included classical, contemporary and romantic music. It was Friday evening, on the eve of what presented itself as a finally kind of relaxing weekend, so life was good, and about to get better.
First performed on the actual birthday of Emperor Franz II on February 12, 1797 in all the theaters in Vienna and the provinces, Haydn's song "Gott erhalte Franz der Kaiser" soon became the very popular unofficial first national anthem of Austria. After the Austrians abandoned it (along with the monarchy) it became the tune of the official national anthem of Germany. Easy come, easy go. The composer was actually so fond of the melody that he used it later for one of his most remarkable string quartets, and the rest has been chamber music history. Listening to it played by a terrifically tight and talented ensemble, it was easy to detect its attractive qualities while its sunny, elegant intricacies were filling up the packed auditorium.
After such a feast of refined lilting, Szymanowski's dissonant, occasionally harsh outbursts sounded even more so. Although it had some beautifully lyrical lines for the violins, his string quartet also contained sudden moments of uneasiness that kept on jolting the audience at the most unexpected turns. A little bit of sweet Romanticism here and more robust folksiness there yielded an unusual but stimulating composition, which the musicians handled with much poise and gusto.
You know you can always count on Mendelssohn to freely dispense galores of cheerful melodies and all-around happiness. After the whole array of sounds we had just been through, his Opus 44, which has sometimes been deemed inferior to his previous works, rose shiny and bright, putting everybody in a buoyant mood just in time for the weekend. Conclusion: Don't listen to the naysayers. Opus 44 is about as luminous and pleasurable as anything the man wrote (and that is saying something).
But before we left, our enthusiastic standing ovation earned us an outstanding reward in the form of a gorgeous "Melody" by prolific and eclectic Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk. All those strings made beautiful music together, and we can only hope for another opportunity to hear them again very soon.