Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vuilliani String Quartet - Haydn, Mendelssohn & Dvorak - 02/27/11

Haydn: String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No 2
Mendelssohn: String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80
Dvorak: Viola Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97, "The American" – Ida Kavafian

Another weekend in New York City, another new musical adventure to embark on. I had heard that the Schneider Concerts at the New School in Chelsea, an endeavor that started over five decades ago with the goal to expose exceptional budding musical talent to the general public, was one of the best-kept secrets for classical music lovers in the Big Apple, so I of course had to go check it out for myself. They only present a few concerts a year and, as a matter of fact, are already half-way through their season, but better late than never. A program including Haydn, Mendelssohn and Dvorak performed by the no doubt outstanding youngsters of the Vuilliani String Quartet, with special guest Ida Kavafian on the second viola, sounded just like the perfect way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Written when Haydn was 67 years old, his String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No 2 is definite proof that age is totally irrelevant when it comes to artistic creation. Stunningly combining treacherous intricacies and graceful refinement, this work was in the right hands this afternoon and beautiful rose in the acoustically satisfactory Tishman Auditorium. After the youthful, spirited first two movements, the Andante opened with an exquisite dialog between the cello and the first violin, and later expanded the dreamy mood to all the instruments. The last movement was vivacious and whimsical, all the way to the joyful Finale.
A decade after composing this brilliant masterpiece, Franz Joseph Haydn died, in 1809, the exact same year in which Felix Mendelssohn was born: The master was dead, long lived the master! The String Quartet in F Minor happens to be the last piece that the German master of Romanticism wrote before his untimely death two months later. Dedicated to his beloved and equally talented sister Fanny after her sudden, highly distressing death, it is a particularly agitated and deeply emotional journey. Opening with relentlessly tormented tremolos, it nevertheless also contains catchy melodies and quieter passages, especially in the expressive Adagio, before concluding in a ball of disturbed energy. The four musicians handled the challenge with plenty of vigor and polish, easily keeping abreast with the work’s complexity and pace.
After intermission the quartet was back in the company of their special guest, seasoned violist Ida Kavagian, for Dvorak’s Viola Quintet in E-flat Major, which he wrote while spending the summer with a Czech immigrant community in Spillville, Iowa, of all places. Unsurprisingly, folksy tunes abound and a deep nostalgia permeates the whole score. Far from being depressing though, it is a delightfully colorful and intensely atmospheric piece. Dvorak, of course, gives the violas, his own instrument, the lion’s share of the work, and it was very nice to be able to hear the lovely music that can be produced by such a neglected solo instrument. Not to be outdone, the two violins and the cello masterfully joined in as well for a vibrant interpretation of “The American”.

So this first foray in the Schneider Concerts was for the most part a true success. The venue was conducive to enjoying a live concert, the ensemble was excellent, the program top-notch, and the audience, well, let’s just say they were an interesting bunch. Beside the ego-boosting fact that I was positively one of the five youngest people there, they were an eclectic crowd. As soon as the performance started, the woman next to me promptly dozed off, which was actually a good thing because she did not snore and had a tendency to let out long, deep sighs when she was awake. The one in front of me unperturbedly carried on with her crossword puzzle, and the one behind me just had to have a tic tac during the Adagio of the Mendelssohn. She was actually considerate enough to offer one to her buddy – What’s yet a little more rattling? – but her courtesy obviously did not extend to letting her neighbors enjoy the music in peace. The pros, however, easily outweighed the cons, and I will be back.

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