Tuesday February 21, 2017
Vancouver Playhouse 8:00 pm
This concert is generously sponsored by Eric Wyness
The Pražák Quartet
Jana Vonášková, violin
Vlastimil Holek, violin
Josef Kluson, viola
Michal Kanka, cello
The Pražák Quartet has been an audience favourite of ours for 30 years; they provided the core of the concert series celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Friends of Chamber Music in 1998. And now this group, that brings us the best of the burnished string sound of the Bohemian tradition, plays a farewell concert of Mozart, Janáček and Dvořák.
Established in 1972 while its members were students at the Prague Conservatory, the Pražák Quartet has gained attention for its place in the unique Czech quartet tradition. In 1974 they received the first prize at the Prague Conservatory Chamber Music Competition. Within twelve months their international career had been launched with a performance at the 1975 Prague Spring Music Festival. In 1978, the quartet took the first prize at the Evian String Quartet Competition as well as a special prize awarded by Radio France for the best recording during the competition. The group was awarded further prizes at various other Czech competitions.
In 2015 Jana Vonášková took over from Pavel Hula, who had stepped in five years earlier for founding first violinist Vaclav Remes. Ms. Vonášková was the violinist with the Smetana Trio for a decade before that.
For over 30 years, the Pražák Quartet has been at home on music stages worldwide. They are regular guests in the major European musical capitals and have been invited to participate at numerous international festivals, where they have collaborated with such artists as Menahem Pressler, Jon Nakamatsu, Cynthia Phelps, Roberto Diaz, Josef Suk, and Sharon Kam.
The Pražák Quartet records exclusively now for Praga/Harmonia Mundi which, to date, has released over 30 award-winning CDs. In addition to numerous radio broadcasts in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, the Pražák Quartet has also made recordings for Supraphon, Panton, Orfeo, Ottavo, Bonton, and Nuova Era.
String Quartet No. 20 in D Major, K499 “Hoffmeister” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Although a child prodigy, it was not until his later years (in his 30s!) that Mozart reached the pinnacle of his musical composing skills, writing for chamber music groups, orchestra and operatic stage. His six superb string quartets, composed between 1782 and 1785, are regarded as some of his best music, but the reaction to them at the time was not complimentary. More than a year after finishing his “Haydn” quartets, Mozart returned to quartet writing in 1786. Today his string quartet K499, which he dedicated to his friend and publisher Anton Hoffmeister, is highly regarded. Although the quartet is filled with melody and apparently optimistic in outlook, it also conveys a sense of despondency. Mozart’s biographer, Anton Einstein, referred to this mixture of emotions as “despair under the mask of gaiety”.
The Allegretto demonstrates a mixture of gravity and lightness. It opens with a bright, insouciant theme ending in a relaxed unison down the D Major chord. Developed in canon between the first violin and cello, this theme returns many times throughout the movement. Then, Mozart introduces new motives with intricate contrapuntal dialogues. Later, a darker side of the music emerges, characterised by sharp contrasts with impassioned outbursts and timorous responses. A short eight-note trilling figure, which is heard throughout, reappears in the coda and disappears quietly at the end of the movement.
The Menuetto has been described as “a piece of musical wizardry”. Here, the relaxed mood of the Allegro returns, with expressive imitative writing imparting great depth of feeling. However, the following Trio, “a masterpiece of contrapuntal scoring”, has a sombre cast despite lively running triplets.
The Adagio, which combines reticence with superb compositional skills, is full of brightness. It is considered one of the most moving and beautiful of all of Mozart’s slow movements. Beginning with a lovely duet between the violins, it sets the pattern of the entire movement, one duo following another, achieving an extraordinary level of expression reminiscent of an Italian opera.
The final Allegro brings a complete change of pace. Its major tonality and bustling vitality of the themes give an impression of brightness that conceals traces of underlying melancholy. The movement begins with short fragments of the first theme before presenting it in full. A brighter semi-serious jocose second theme follows, played by the violin. A masterly development and recapitulation are both repeated before the quartet ends with a joyous coda.
String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters” Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
Adagio – Vivace
Moderato – Allegro – Adagio
Janacek’s second quartet is regarded as the climax of his chamber music works. Janacek’s last work, it was written in 1928 between January 29th and February 19th, just a few months before he died. Originally entitled “Love Letters”, it is a happy work that was inspired by Janacek’s love for Kamilla Stosslova, to whom he wrote almost daily during the latter years of his life. Originally, Janacek wanted to underscore the source of his inspiration of this work by replacing the viola with the viola d’amore, but he abandoned this idea and ultimately labelled the quartet “Intimate Letters”. The quartet is Janacek’s deepest work of self-revelation and is amazingly fertile, full of melody and great emotional intensity. Janacek’s style of composition is deeply rooted in the rich heritage of Czech and Moravian folk music. His use of harmonically contrasting blocks to build a musical structure can be heard in this quartet as can his use of instruments to the extreme limits of their range.
The first two movements reveal feelings of tenderness and veiled passion. The main subject of the Andante, with its floating rubato rhythm, serves as the main motto theme of the quartet. It returns at the end of the second movement where it is joined contrapuntally to the presto melody of the middle part. In the Finale, the theme reappears, where it is subject to rhythmic and melodic variations.
The Adagio suggests nostalgic memories, such as those that intimate letters might evoke. It is written in the form of variations with a lilting melody first sounded by the viola. The Vivace section interrupts the variations. Towards the end of the movement, the main theme of the first movement is restated.
The third movement, the emotional climax of the quartet, is a cradle song of great beauty and lyrical tenderness. It assumes a lighter spirit, abounding in lively dance rhythms.
The Allegro, in its opening, inherits the merry undertone heard at the close of the third movement, and, after a pensive and exquisite interlude, concludes in an outcry of youthful exuberance that belies Janacek’s approaching demise.
String Quartet No. 10 in E flat Major, Op. 51 Antonín Dvořák (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, Dvořák’s career was flourishing. He was praised for capturing the simplicity and infectious merriment of his 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. 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 Dvořákian 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 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 which is introduced by the second violin. These two themes are developed further before the movement comes to an exuberant close.
Both at the Vancouver Playhouse
Parisian Elegance: CMS Piano & Strings
Sunday March 19, 2017
Matinée at 3:00 pm
Concerto for violin, string quartet & continuo in E minor, Opus 10 No.5
Trio for strings
Tzigane for violin & piano
Concert for violin, piano & string quartet, Opus 21
Emerson String Quartet
Sunday March 26, 2017
Matinée at 3:00 pm
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
String Quartet in D minor, K.421
String Quartet No. 4 in D major, Opus 83
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Opus 27