Friday, January 27, 2017

Quintessential Quartets at UT's Recital Hall

Please join the Principal Quartet on Sunday, January 29, 2:30 as we present two highly celebrated works by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Note that we are in a new venue for this concert, the posh new Powell Recital Hall at the Haslam Music Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee. Parking for this concert should be readily available in Lot 23, or in meter spaces (meters will NOT be in effect) on Volunteer Boulevard.

Although not known primarily for his chamber music, Tchaikovsky nonetheless hit a home run with his op. 11 Quartet No. 1 in D, from 1871.  Buoyed by the success of his tone poem Romeo and Juliet, and encouraged by Russia's “Group of 5” composers, (Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky Rimsky-Korsakov, and especially, Balakirev), Tchaikovsky led the charge in creating a uniquely Russian musical language and aesthetic.  The centerpiece of the work is the Andante cantabile second movement, a work often excerpted and arranged for string orchestra.  Notice the use of mutes by the players in this movement to create a divinely serene atmosphere, and the “Amen cadence” at the end which holds further divine connotations.  (Whereas most music is based on cadences that travel from “V” to “I,” the Amen cadence progresses from “IV” to “I” after firmly establishing the “I” or tonic).  The transparent, open harmonies of the first movement and Scherzo led one early reviewer to dub the work “the Accordion.”  The nickname would have seemed derogatory if the accordion was not more reputable in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe.

Both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky are “used to” having their works be concert closers, so a quandary arose when deciding concert order for this program.  It might seem “normal” to go from old to new, but in this case, we had to consider how each work ended.  No other Beethoven quartet ends with a fugue, and no other fugue by any composer PERIOD holds such excitement and madcap verve, except for MAYBE the finale of Mendelssohn's Octet.  If the Op. 18 quartets are the book of Genesis of Beethoven's quartet output, the Op. 59's are surely the Psalms.  All through the work, there are sudden outbursts of virtuosic playing that one cannot leave unattended in one's practice.  I was introduced to one particularly famous (or infamous) cello lick when I was 19, and have been working on it assiduously in the 20 years since.  (Little humor there. “Yeah! Very little!”)  The “dance movement” of this work is a minuet which leads into the fugal finale via a coda; a scherzo would have been too much given the fugue's intensity.

Fasten your seatbelts!

No comments: