Escher String Quartet Vancouver Premiere

Escher String Quartet – Season 67

August 2, 2016

Tuesday November 18th, 2014
At the Vancouver Playhouse at 8.00 pm.

Adam Barnett-Hart, Violin

Aaron Boyd, Violin

Pierre Lapointe, Viola

Dane Johansen, Cello

The Escher String Quartet, formed in 2005, takes its name from Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, inspired by Escher’s method of interplay amongst individual components working together to form a whole. The quartet has received acclaim for its profound musical insight and rare tonal beauty. Championed by the Emerson String Quartet, the group was part of the BBC New Generation Artists scheme from 2010-2012. In its home town of New York, the ensemble are artists of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In 2013, the quartet was awarded the prestigious Avery Fischer Career Grant.

Months after its start, the Escher String Quartet was invited by both Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman to be Quartet in Residence at each artist’s summer festival. The group has collaborated with artists including Khatia Buniatishvili, Leon Fleischer, David Finckel, Wu Han, Lynn Harrell, Joseph Kalichstein, and Jason Vieaux, as well as jazz vocalist Kurt Elling.

The Escher String Quartet has performed at Wigmore Hall, the Cheltenham and City of London festivals, the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris, the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and at the Ravinia and Caramoor festivals, as well as at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève, Switzerland and at the Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt, Austria. The ensemble has toured China and made its Australian debut at the Perth International Arts Festival. In the United States, highlights have included performances at Northwestern University, the Coleman Chamber Music Society and the Buffalo Chamber Music Society.

This season the quartet debuts at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, as well as at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Israel; in addition, the group tours the UK with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, and continues its relationship with the Wigmore Hall, returning to collaborate with jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman. There will be more performances at New York’s Lincoln Center and a return to Music@Menlo.

The Escher String Quartet has recorded the complete Zemlinsky string quartets on Naxos. Forthcoming releases include the Mendelssohn quartet cycle on the BIS label.

Programme

String Quartet in D Major, Op. 50 No. 6 “The Frog”  Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Allegro
Poco adagio
Menuetto: Allegretto
Finale: Allegro con spirito

Haydn’s six Russian quartets Opus 50, written between 1784 and 1786, were dedicated to Frederick William II, King of Prussia, who was a fine cellist and chamber music player. The King was so pleased with the quartets that he gave Haydn a gold ring which Haydn always wore thereafter as a source of inspiration. While composing, to please his noble patron, in these quartets Haydn took full advantage of the cello’s lyrical, dramatic and technical possibilities, writing cello parts richer than any before. This paved the way for more brilliant pats for the other instruments which are filled with sparkle, touches of deft humour, and romantic melody. The last of the opus 50 quartets, No. 6, considered to be the finest of the group, is the lightest in character and is included in the various editions of Haydn’s thirty celebrated quartets.

The first violin alone states the germinal motif of the Allegro, a long note followed by four rapid descending notes, from which the rest of the movement grows. The theme undergoes various transformations which have an underlying restlessness and sense of urgency.

The deeply moving Poco adagio, written in the minor key, is also essentially monothematic. Around the relatively simple melody Haydn weaves a rich tapestry of fast-moving counter-melodies, with a particularly prominent and difficult cello part.

The Menuetto, written in traditional three-part form, is most striking in its contrasts. The first part, which is loud, forceful, and robust, is followed by a tender and graceful trio. There are a few long pauses towards the end of the movement which impart a feeling of tentative hesitancy, preceding a shortened repeat of the Menuetto.

The quartet derives its nickname, “The Frog”, from the opening of the finale, in which the violinist uses a technique known as “bariolage”, a quick to and fro playing of the same note on two strings which was thought to resemble the croaking of a frog. A second theme follows, similar to the opening of the first movement, with the bariolage permeating the movement even to the very last notes.

String Quartet No. 10 in E flat Major, Op. 51 Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
Allegro ma non troppo
Dumka (Elegia): Andante con moto – Vivace
Romanza: Andante con moto
Finale: Allegro assai

In 1878, with the publication of the first set of Slavonic dances, Dvorak’s career was flourishing. He was praised for capturing the simplicity and infectious merriment of native Czech folk music, without resorting to overt borrowings of national melodies. Asked by Jean Becker of the Florentine Quartet to write a quartet in the Slavic style, Dvorak produced this charming and beautiful Opus 51, which integrates elements of Czech national music with his basically classical approach to composition.

The first movement reflects the contentment and serenity that Dvorak was enjoying at that time. It begins with a flowing lyrical subject played by the first violin over a background of arpeggio textures. A Polka rhythm soon appears and forms the basis of the second theme. A contrast of moods occurs in the vigorous development, when the main theme, in augmentation, is accompanied by the polka theme. After a vigorous development in E minor, the first theme reappears at half speed scored in A major against the second subject as counterpoint. The movement ends with an extended coda of great beauty.

The second movement, with its melancholic tone and contrasting scherzo-like interludes, is a typical Dvorakian Dumka. It consists of a two groups of themes with the second affording a cheerful contrast of mood to the melancholy character of the first group. Over strummed harp-like chords in the cello, the violin, echoed by the viola, sings a sad lament. In the middle section is a lively Furiant, a popular Czech folk dance. As the dance rhythm gradually fades away, the Dumka melody returns with the theme treated in cannon. A short coda founded on the Furiant, scored in the minor mode, closes the movement in quickened tempo.

Short and intimate, the mood of the Romanza is one of sustained, wistful meditation. It is comprised essentially of one main theme, which Dvorak transforms and develops at some length. Later, this theme merges almost imperceptibly with a second theme, heard in imitation between second violin and cello.

The finale is a lively movement full of effervescent charm and abandon. It is based on the rhythm of a Skacna, a lively Czech dance in 2/4 time, which is introduced by the first violin. This is followed by a slightly slower and more serious second theme, introduced by the second violin. These two themes are developed further before the movement comes to an exuberant close.

Intermission

String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, D.804 “Rosamunde” Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Allegro ma non troppo
Andante
Menuetto: Allegretto
Allegro moderato

In the spring of 1824, Schubert (almost 27 years old) wrote to his friend Kupelweiser that he had resumed writing chamber music in preparation for composing a “Grand Symphony”. In the same letter, he expressed the depression caused by his illness. The string quartet medium proved an ideal vehicle for Schubert’s growing contrapuntal skills and harmonic audacity and aptly reflected his innermost feelings. One can hear his unrest, despair and despondency in the achingly beautiful music of the Quartet. Dedicated to his friend Ignaz Schuppanzigh, the work was premiered by the Schuppanzigh Quartet in March 1824. Each of the movements has some thematic connection with several of Schubert’s other compositions. The quartet marks a departure from his early instrumental style, preparing the way for the seven great chamber music masterpieces he composed during the last five years of his life.

The Allegro begins quietly, with the second violin playing a flowing accompaniment figure reminiscent of Schubert’s song, “Gretchen aus spinnrade”. In the third bar, the first violin enters with a melody of extraordinary tenderness and melancholic beauty which is followed by a second principal theme, a song-like melody in C major.

The beautiful slow Andante, employing a fragment of Schubert’s “Rosamunde” music, is both lyrical and resigned. For the most part, the mood is serenely happy, but, at the climax, the tranquility is shattered by passion.

The Menuetto is one of Schubert’s most haunting pieces. A departure from the conventional, it is not a formal dance. The theme is taken from Schubert’s song, “Die Gotter Greichenlands”. The lovely rich modulations to different keys seem to offer a distraction from sorrow.

The cheerful Finale, which affords a relief from the tension of the previous movement, suggests a rural jollity with its persistent dance rhythm. The movement is in regular sonata form, with a development section that approaches classical perfection. The minor keys and subdued colours of the earlier movements are beautifully transformed into brighter shades to bring the work to a joyful conclusion.

 

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