Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: String Quartet No. 6 in B-flat major, K.159
Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Opus 64, No. 6
Until this year, summer had always been for me the season to stay put and let everybody else frantically run around and deal with heat, crowds, and grossly inflated prices. For reasons mostly beyond my control, this year had to be different, so I decided to make the most of it. That’s why, after a wonderfully restorative month in Trieste, whirlwind and fun-filled visits to Turin and Aix-en-Provence, and a few nature- and family-bonding days in Dieulefit and Vollore-Montagne, I am now temporarily sojourning in Dieulefit again for some more good stuff.
Even better, my extended stay has coincided with a chamber music concert by the fifth-year resident Quatuor Lugha, which is currently in the midst of fulfilling the exciting but taxing mission of playing all the string quartets of Mozart (23!!) and Haydn (68!!!). That said, their name being inspired by Lugh, the Celtic god of the arts, it looks like these talented young musicians are well-equipped to successfully meet the challenge.
So last Saturday evening, after a de rigueur stop at Dieulefit’s chocolaterie in the afternoon (I hadn’t been there in almost a week and had started to suffer unmistakable withdrawal symptoms), my mom and I returned to nearby Le Poët-Laval, an expertly restored medieval hilltop village that has been officially deemed one of the 150 “Most Beautiful Villages of France” and is a frequent playground of ours, to gamely negotiate our way down its tricky cobble streets and attend what was bound to be, by all accounts, an elevated evening.
Surprisingly, the pleasantly intimate, nicely decorated and acoustically satisfying auditorium of the Centre d’Art Yvon Morin was only about half-full and, even more surprisingly, the audience included a definitely handsome, seemingly laid-back and allegedly music-loving fox terrier, who in fact turned out to be much better behaved that some human beings I have encountered through all my years as an audience member.
In the end, the slightly unusual circumstances did not prevent the quartet to readily dive into Mozart’s 1773 String Quartet No. 11 in E Flat Major, K. 171 with impressive skills and communicative fervor. One of the “Viennese” string quartets Mozart wrote after having heard a few from Haydn’s œuvre and being pretty much blown away by them, this relatively short composition was utterly charming, with a touch of melancholy, and a healthy dose of natural elegance. It also proved that the 17-year-old composer was smart enough to learn from the older master, by moving from the three-movement to the four-movement form, for example, and talented enough to become perfectly able to compete.
We then jumped back to an earlier time in 1773, to hear Mozart’s String Quartet No. 6 in B-flat Major, K.159, one of the three-movement “Milanese” quartets, which, clearly under Italian influence, was beautifully melodic and endearingly light-hearted, but also showed a hint of the haunting darkness that would later appear in some of his major works such as Don Giovanni. As expected, Haydn was nowhere to be found yet, but the journey was already irresistibly engaging.
After a short intermission, Haydn grabbed the spotlight for the last piece on the program, his String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Opus 64, No. 6, which he composed during his extended and productive stay in London in 1791. Exquisitely crafted with a few intense peaks as extra perks, overtly lyrical with occasional discreet dissonances thrown in for good measure, highly contrasted while still preserving an air-tight unity, this wonderful mini music feast wrapped up the concert with dazzling fireworks, before we all found ourselves outside again, this time negotiating our way up the still tricky cobble streets in total darkness, minus our trusted flashlights, energy crisis oblige.