Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Soul of Chamber Music in the Heart of Downtown

The chamber side of the KSO will be in evidence this week as the Principal String Quartet will present a concert at noon at the Square Room on Wednesday, Sept. 27, and the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra will bring a diverse program to the Bijou on Sunday afternoon at 2:30.

The Square Room is on Knoxville's Market Square downtown, hence the name. It also happens to be square in shape, but most rooms are, so in this case, the venue is named after its location, not its design.

The quartet will perform music of Mozart, Piazzolla and Mendelssohn. Mozart's quartet K. 159 is not your average “Baby Mozart” quartet; there is a quirkiness to it that indicates the composer's impatience with convention- with being square. The first movement Andante grazioso has a gentle start and is neither slow nor fast; a piece you might peg as a middle movement. Oddly sized phrases and differing textures keep you guessing as to the musical destination. The middle movement in this case is an urgently skittish Allegro. It has to be one of the best G minor movements ever written, on a list dominated by Mozart's “emo” gems. The finale is a Rondo, but you will probably want to call it a Theme and Variations. More punchy, boppy, B-flat major fun than you can shake a stick at, from a 14-year-old composer who was holed up in Milan working on his eighth opera.

Astor Piazzolla took traditional string quartet playing for a wild ride in 1989 with his Four for Tango, written for the Kronos Quartet. Its highly percussive, urban complexion will set the table for Felix Mendelssohn's String Quartet op. 44, No. 2 in E minor. Mendelssohn's rich palette keeps the music bright and charming in spite of the minor tonality.

The Sunday Chamber Classics series concert will begin in Revolutionary times, with Haydn's Symphony No. 60, the “Distraught” from 1775. Prokofiev's “Classical” Symphony will bridge the 140-year gap between itself and the Haydn by melding classical-era constructs with 20th-century tonal cheekiness. The concert will close with Maestro Aram Demirjian leading HK Gruber's Frankenstein!! This narrated showpiece from the Third Viennese School has every trick in the book coming in to play; “a show with everything but Yul Brynner,” as we used to say in the '80s. Gruber is said to be a distant relative of the composer of Silent Night, Franz Gruber, but that is where the similarity ends. This is music you will want to fasten your seatbelt for! Listen safely...

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