Mandelring Quartet – Season 67

June 28, 2016

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Vancouver Playhouse 8:00pm

Sebastian Schmidt, violin
Nanette Schmidt, violin
Roland Glassl, viola
Bernhard Schmidt, cello

In 2008, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung declared that the Mandelring Quartet was so good that it is a worthy successor to the Alban Berg Quartet. Writing of their Shostakovich cycle at the Salzburg Festival, the leading Austrian arts magazine, Die Bühne, named it as the heir of the legendary Borodin Quartet; and the renowned music magazine Fono Forum counts it as one of the six best string quartets in the world. Its expressivity and remarkable homogeneity of sound and phrasing have become its distinguishing characteristics. The four individual members are as one in their shared determination always to seek out the innermost core of the music and remain open to the musical truth.

Their international career started by winning great competitions in Munich (ARD), Evian and Reggio Emilia (Premio Paolo Borciani). In addition to numerous performances in Germany, the Mandelring Quartet’s concert tours have taken them throughout Europe, North America, Central and South America, the Middle East, Japan and Asia, as well as successful appearances at many international Festivals. The Mandelring Quartet has performed the complete cycle of all 15 Shostakovich quartets in Berlin and at the Salzburg Festival.

The Mandelring Quartet have recorded many CDs of wide-ranging repertoire, repeatedly awarded the German Music Critics’ Prize and nominated for the International Classical Music Award. Their recording of the complete Shostakovich quartet cycle has been hailed by critics as one of the best available. The discs of works by Schubert and Schumann are considered new benchmark performances, and their recent CD of Leoš Janáček’s string quartets has received a range of awards. Currently, the quartet is recording the complete chamber music for strings by Mendelssohn, two of the planned four CDs having been released.

The HAMBACHERMusikFEST, the quartet’s annual festival, brings together lovers of chamber music from all over the world. Since 2010 the Quartet has presented a regular series of concerts in the Chamber Music Hall of the Berlin Philharmonie and in its home town of Neustadt.


String Quartet in G major, Opus 18, No. 2 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Adagio cantabile
Scherzo: Allegro
Allegro molto, quasi Presto

In 1795 Count Apponyi asked Beethoven to write a string quartet. Beethoven declined the request, judging himself not yet ready for this exacting form of composition. It was not until 1798 that he began his six string quartets Op. 18, which he dedicated to Prince Karl Lobkowitz. These quartets are filled with the charm of a century which was passing and reflect the influence of Haydn and Mozart. However, they also break new ground, reflecting new ideas and representing a considerable advance in quartet writing. Scholars now believe that these quartets were not written in the order in which they were published, but that the Quartet No. 3 was actually the first in order of composition.

The second quartet in this series begins with an Allegro. The graceful principal theme has three important elements: the eight-note group of its first bar, the dotted figure of the third bar, and the little tune that makes up the last four bars. The transitional passage of three long strokes, followed by a group of rocking notes is also to be noted, as the second subject is partly derived from it. Towards the end of the exposition, the second violin introduces a carefree melody that the first violin appropriates and scatters in a stream of triplets. The development turns first to the thematic material of the transition and the presents the first subject’s dotted figure in all four parts in turn. In the recapitulation there is considerable alteration and adjustment of the original music, especially in the lat section.

The theme of the second movement is stated by the first violin. This noble melody is ornamented by delicate arabesques. It should be noted the Beethoven, breaking with tradition, divides the Adagio into two parts in order to insert a passage of pure virtuosity, full of high spirits. The slow theme returns on the cello, but is interrupted after six bars, while the first violin resumes its airy improvisation until the close.

The gay and witty Scherzo follows, with a Trio in C major, whose second half is an animated dialogue between the two violins and the cello, while the viola, by insisting on a figure in binary rhythm, seems to want to moderate their impulse. An arpeggio on the first violin brings this impetuous dialogue to a sparkling end, after which a da capo leads back to the theme of the Scherzo.

The first subject of the final movement, played by the cello, has the character of a Viennese popular song, a genre of which Beethoven was fond. There is a short transitional passage derived from it, and an equally brief second subject, whose essence is contained in its first four bars. The development opens with an abrupt statement of the first subject, and then continues with a discussion of two separate motifs belonging to it, until the theme reappears with entries in canon. In the recapitulation there are numerous changes in detail, though the general plan of the exposition is adhered to more consistently. The four instruments conclude the movement in a mood of simple and unaffected gaiety.

String Quartet No. 2 György Ligeti (b. 1923)

Allegro nervoso
Sostenuto, molto calmo
Come un meccanismo di precisione
Presto furioso, brutale, tumultuoso
Allegro con delicatezza

Ligeti, an Austrian composer of Hungarian birth, did not become widely known until 1960 following the performance of his orchestral Apparitions at the ISCM Festival in Copenhagen. A graduate of the Budapest Academy of Music, he was appointed Professor at the Academy in 1940 where he remained until 1956, thereafter moving to Vienna. In 1968 he composed his second String Quartet and Ten Pieces for Wind Quintet. The five-movement quartet is one of his most profound works, resembling somewhat the combined variants and arch form used by Bartok, whom he admired.
The second quartet incorporates a synthesis of techniques that Ligeti discovered himself. According to the composer “each of the five movements is a different realization of essentially the same idea”. This basic idea or constant is the interpretation of the chromatic scale with pure intervals of the harmonic series, particularly the octave and fifth. It was largely this use of harmonics that delayed the work’s premiere as it took the La Salle Quartet, for whom it was written, more than a year to learn the piece! The quartet also contains allusions to Beethoven, Bartók, Debussy and Webern, a feature of the times, for in the late 1960s the vogue for inserting musical quotations was at its height. In addition, there are internal references reinforcing Ligeti’s own statement that all five movements are an expression of one idea. However, despite these cross-references, the five movements are quite distinct from one another. There is no slow movement or scherzo, but rather slowness and brisk wit can be found scattered throughout the piece.
As stated by Ligeti, the first movement is concerned with abrupt changes in tempo with energetic gallops suddenly braked into stillness, and just as suddenly set raging again. The second and third movements use the same material. The second movement presents the thematic material mainly in the context of slow drift while all four instruments pluck away like metronomes, getting progressively faster and out of synchrony.
In the fourth movement, the Presto is very fast and threatening, compressing together everything that has happened before. The final Allegro, alive with rapid arpeggios, is more symmetrical than the other movements. It opens and closes with the same D sharp-F sharp variation that gives a sense of distance and withdrawal. Ligeti himself suggested an analogy with the Lacrimosa at the end of the Requiem.

String Quartet No. 2 in A major. Opus 68 Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)

Overture: Moderato con moto
Recitative and Romance: Adagio
Waltz: Allegro
Theme and Variations: Adagio

Shostakovich wrote his First Quartet in 1938. Whereas that work is witty and relaxed, the Second Quartet which followed in 1944 is an altogether bigger piece, dogged and intense. Given the wartime setting during which it was composed, the darker atmosphere to the quartet is not surprising; and in addition, Shostakovich was maturing as a composer.

The extensive opening movement, headed “Overture”, is constructed from terse motivic ideas with the composer obviously enjoying the possibilities of motivic interaction and combination. Closely composed, it demands close listening, and such is its staying power that not until the very end is the principal subject formally recapitulated. This is followed by a heart-felt romance, framed by lengthy declamatory passages (molto espressivo) marked “Recitative” in a formal experiment which Shostakovich never repeated. The scherzo is a “diabolical” waltz, haunted, as if from a distance, by the “dance of death” imagery found in so many of his wartime and post-war compositions. Here the instruments are muted throughout, but the dynamics rise to ff and the climax is strenuous. The finale is a continuous set of variations in A minor, introduced by a short Adagio derived from the theme, which is then stated (Moderato con moto) by each instrument in turn, beginning with the viola. The variations are both imaginative and instrumentally brilliant, with an emphasis on reiterated figures and progressive quickening of the tempo. In the final section there is a return to the Adagio introduction, and the movement ends with a broad declamatory version of the beginning of the theme.