Leos Janacek: String Quartet No. 2 (Intimate Letters)
Alessandra Cefaliello: Cello
Cristina Papini: Violin
Matteo Rocchi: Viola
Fabrizio Zoffoli: Violin
Giovanni Bietti: Host
Although rejoicing over other people’s misery is not nice, you gotta admit that sometimes things turn out for the best for you because they’ve turned out badly for someone else. In my case, two weeks ago I was feeling sorry for myself for not being able to attend the second of the four music lessons organized by the Accademia Filarmonica Romana and Rai Radio 3 in my new neighborhood of Flaminio because I had to go to Naples for a few days to help my friend Vittorio celebrate his birthday. Life can be so cruel sometimes.
Upon my return, however, while walking by the sala Casella gate, I noticed a poster advertising that same concert for the upcoming Sunday. Once home, I checked their website and saw that the concert had to be postponed because a member of the Quartetto Guadagnini that had been expected to perform had been taken ill. While I sincerely hoped that the poor thing had recovered quickly and fully, I also could not help but also be secretly grateful for the unexpected turn of events.
And so last Sunday, after having enjoyed one more hour of sleep and a surprise encounter with my salumeria guys as they were running down via Flaminia in the morning, I walked down the by now familiar streets to the sala Casella late afternoon as daylight was already fading away (a small price to pay for brighter mornings), as I was getting mentally prepared for another illuminating music lesson from educator extraordinaire Giovanni Bietti.
This one would focus on another intriguing pairing consisting of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Leos Janacek, and I have to confess that while I was looking forward to learning more about those two major classical music figures and the mystery link between them, I was even more thrilled at the thought of finally getting another opportunity to hear Janacek’s almost too hot to handle Intimate Letters. No offence intended to Herr Mozart and his wonderful, more civilized, quartet, of course.
The session started by diving right into the heart of the matter and lifting the suspense that was killing all of us with a kind of obvious answer: Mozart and Janacek were both brilliant opera composers, their impressive respective œuvres having been to various degrees inspired by the endless possibilities of the voice. Duh! Additionally, as any self-respecting Czech national, Janacek idolized Mozart, especially his magnificent opera Don Giovanni, which incidentally makes it something that he and I would have in common.
Proceeding in chronological order this time, we started with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23, which ended up being his last due to his untimely death. The Prussian 3 was the third of the six string quartets commissioned by cello-loving King Frederick William II of Prussia and therefore contains prominent parts for the instrument, which kept fearless cellist Alessandra Cefaliello extremely busy, and totally unfazed. The other three stringers were by no means neglected in that neatly rounded composition, and the entire ensemble performed with the same kind of infectious gusto as the one they displayed on the poster advertising the concert.
No matter what ailment had derailed the Quartetto Guadagnini’s plans the previous weekend, its members were all in decidedly fine form on Sunday evening indeed. Thanks to the musicians’ superior skills and Bietti’s insightful pointers we got to discern the Allegro moderato’s witty jokes, the Andante’s unusual beats, the Minuetto’s countless loops, and the Allegro’s wide-ranging complexity. We also got to simply sit back, relax and marvel at the piece’s intricate structure, refined elegance and emotional expressiveness because sometimes that’s all you want to do.
After intermission, we moved on to Janacek, the late 19th century Moravia-born composer, as well as musical theorist, folklorist, publicist, and teacher, who probably could be considered the ultimate late bloomer of classical music as he was already in his sixties when he achieved significant success, and also fell in deep and unrequited love with a married woman almost four decades younger than him, who would inspire his Intimate Letters quartet (Love letters would clearly have been too explicit).
With his knack for vesting tremendous emotional power into each and every note he used and firmly disregarding any superfluous fussiness, an M.O. that led no less than Milan Kundera to call his music “a polyphony of emotions”, Janacek wrote unfailingly intense and unforgivingly challenging works that still resonate as profoundly today as they did when they first came out.
And we all got a terrific demonstration of this particular talent of his on Sunday evening as we were listening to the quartet’s riveting performance of his unabashedly passionate “manifesto on love”. A special mention should also be made of violist Matteo Rocchi, who handled the thorny task of representing Janacek’s voice with an impeccable technique and an emotional commitment that would have certainly pleased the composer, and possibly even helped him conquer the object of his desire too. Who knows.