Saturday, November 07, 2009

Dumbarton Concerts presents Left Bank String Quartet: Beethoven, Strauss, Schoenberg


Tonight, Saturday Nov. 7, the Dumbarton Concert Series presented the Left Bank String Quartet (David Salness, Sally McLean, violins; Katherine Murdock, viola; Evelyn Elsing, cello; with Maria Lambrosm viola, and Kenneth Slowick, cello.

The quartet first played Beethoven’s String Quartet #12 in E-flat, Op 127, the first of the “spiritual” quartets. Triple times proliferate in this work. The brief first movement is a telescoped sonatas form; the slow movement in A-flat is a theme and variations; the scherzo is an adventure in itself (meriting a separate applause), and the finale has the famous Mahler-like march theme.

In the intermission, I talked to the cellist, who said that the group does play the ponderous C-sharp minor quartet, Op 131 (opening with that ambiguous fugue), my favorite (Bernstein orchestrated it). A couple years ago the Dumbarton presented Op 133 “The Great Flight” with the Gross Fugue substituted as the finale.

By the way, while I’m on the topic of Beethoven, I recall that the gay flick “Trick” has a scene where the hero “gets it” while playing the opening theme of the last movement (slow ¾) of the Piano Sonata #30 in E; not even the “Arioso” of Sonata 32 would work as well.

After the intermission, the full sextet picked up with the ten minute “Andante con moto” stand alone movement from Richard Strauss’s opera “Capriccio” (the “meta-opera”) reviewed here in July. The piece is not as impressive as some others, and sounds like something written for the movies to me.

Then the sextet performed Arnold Schoenberg’s famous early adventure in chromaticism, “Verklarte Nacht” or “Transfigured Night”. The poem by Richard Dehmel was read first (text). The woman has admitted she is pregnant with another man’s child, and toward the end the man gives up his old sense of ego and says “It will transfigure the strange man’s soul, you will bear a child for me as if it were mine.” That’s enough to please Phillip Longman whose social contract proposes that we are all responsible for OPC, “other people’s children.” The music moves from one delicious mannerism to the next, before settling to a Wagnerian quiet close in D Major.

My favorite Schoenberg is the Gurre-Lieder, which essentially gives us another “Mahler-like symphony”, this time going from E-flat back to C (reversing the scheme of Mahler’s Second); but the closing chorus has to be performed right. And I love the “Dance of the Golden Calf” from Moses and Aaron (try it on the disco floor), and find his Piano Concerto like a romantic warhorse despite the atonality.

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