Saturday, April 05, 2008

Dumbarton closes season with Vogler Quartet (Haydn, Arensky, Schubert)

The Dumbarton Concerts in Washington DC concluded the 2007-2008 season with “Simply the Best” with the Vogler Quartet tonight. Inbal Sergev substituted for the second cellist, who was to be Daniel Mueller-Schott.

The ensemble demonstrated a tendency toward relaxed tempos throughout the concert.

The first work was the Quartet in E-flat, Op 64 #6, by Franz Joseph Haydn. The work was straightforward, and did not demonstrate the “pre-Beethoven” flavor of the last quartets. (Although when you start Beethoven’s Op. 1, you’re in a new world.) The tempo in the first movement was a bit laid back, and the triple time in the “slow movement” sounded almost like another minuet. The finale did have a couple of playful tempo-stops.

The second work was Anton Arensky’s Quartet #2 in A minor. The theme and variations is well known and taken from Tchaikovsky, and themes from the other two, variable-tempo movements come from the Russian Requiem. The first movement is leisurely paced and ambiguous, and the finale starts with a slow introduction. The Quartet uses two cellos and the work has a darker texture. Somehow it makes me imagine Smallville’s Lex Luthor (“The Villain of the Story”) sitting and plotting his green kryptonite attacks on Clark in is lavish, stain-glass office with the music playing. That whole show sounds like a ballet.

The climax of the concert was Schubert’s massive C Major Quintet, D. 956. This work has always struck me as “pre-Bruckner,” with the slow movement a true, expansive Adagio, and with delicious modulations and harmonies that seem to come from the late Mozart chamber works (like the F Major Quartet). I’ve always thought that Haydn led to Beethoven who then led to Brahms and Schumann; Mozart I link with Schubert, as leading to Bruckner and Mahler (the latter combining song with symphonic form in a similar way) and eventually expressionism, as well as modern composers like Shostakovich and Britten.

Update May 12, 2008: NIH Philharmonia

I won't be able to make it, but the NIH Orchestra, an "amateur" orchestra of scientists from the National Institutes of Health, will perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony tonight. The Washington Post news story is by Philip Rucker, "High-Achieving MDs and PhDs Find Harmony in Orchestra: Science, Music Intersect in NIH Philharmonia," The Washington Post, p A01, link here. A video link is available there.

Today the organist at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA played on the big pipe organ the "Variation uber den Pfingsthymnus "Veni Creator Spiritus," by German organist and composer Hans Hielscher. This is intricate work with toccata-like variations that mix German chromaticism with French whole-tone harmonies, before resolving to a quiet close. But the same hymn forms the text for the first movement of Mahler's Eighth Symphony, the Symphony of a Thousand, which I have heard live once, performed by the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003.

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