By Don Heckman
Ashland, Oregon. It was string quartet time again Friday and Saturday at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall. The spotlight was on the Daedalus Quartet, with violist Martin Beaver added for the final piece on the program.
Like the season’s previous string quartet programs presented by Chamber Music Concerts, the evening offered a compelling view of the far ranging compositional creativity that the seemingly minimal quartet instrumentation (two violins, viola and cello) has inspired in composers over the course of three centuries.
This time, two works from the Romantic period – one by Robert Schumann, another by Felix Mendelssohn – book-ended a 20th century piece by Russian/Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Each provided its own interpretive challenges to the Daedalus players (violinists Min-Young Kim and Matilda Kaul, violist Jessica Thompson and cellist Thomas Kraines), who responded with an impressive blend of technical virtuosity and interpretive excellence.
Schumann’s String Quartet in F Major, Op.41 opened the program. The piece’s vibrant opening Allegro Vivace and closing Allegro Molto Vivace are definitive examples of Schumann’s dedication to the rich emotionalism of the Romantic era.
Both a critic and a composer, he was that rare example of a music commentator who could match musical recommendations with accomplishments of his own. The Daedalus players perfectly captured the vibrant enthusiasm that Schumann invested in the Quartet. Playful at times, deeply emotional elsewhere, they began the evening with a performance perfectly indicating the musical pleasures that were yet to come.
It would, however, be a stretch to use the word “pleasures” in the context of Weinberg’s String Quartet No. 10, OP. 85. Weinberg lived a troubled life in Stalin’s Soviet Union, surviving as a composer because of his friendship with Shostakovich. His affection for dissonance caused problems, yet he refused to modify his creative vision. And it was vividly present in his String Quartet, which was, from beginning to end, a virtual primer in half tone dissonances.
To the credit of the Daedalus players, they played Weinberg’s difficult music, despite its demanding pitch relationships, with alacrity. More than a technical achievement, it was a remarkable display of collective musical togetherness.
By the time the program reached the final work, Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1 in A Major, it was received as a welcome glance back to Romanticism. And the Quintet (with the addition of violist Beaver) made the switch from Weinberg, happily embracing Mendelssohn’s captivating work. Interestingly, it too included technical challenges. But Mendelssohn positioned them within delightfully amiable blends of melody and rhythm. Given the far ranging aspects of the evening’s music, the Mendelssohn provided the perfect ending.
All kudos then, to Chamber Music Concerts and its Executive Director Jody Schmidt. For this music fan, along with many others, CMC’s thoughtfully chosen programs are among the many pleasures of living in Ashland.
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