Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Serafin String Quartet: Grace and Passion

Dissonance has become a relative concept in classical music-with the works of composers such as Schönberg and Schnittke changing the landscape and pushing the audience’s ear to accept challenging, sometimes harsh “chords” or clusters. The opening notes of W.A. Mozart’s String Quartet in C Major, K. 465 create a dissonance that might have been challenging in that same way to listeners in the eighteenth century. But to our modern ears, the quartet is elegant, at times passionate, yet well within our aural “vocabulary”. The Serafin String Quartet opened their concert-part of the Calvary Community Series-with this lovely piece. The quartet members are Kate Ransom and Timothy Schwarz, violins, Ana Tsinadze, viola and Lawrence Stomberg, ‘cello. (During her maternity leave, Ms. Tsinadze is replaced by Luke Fleming of the Attacca Quartet.)

Grant Youngblood sang Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach (written for voice and string quartet). His warm, even tone and excellent diction beautifully conveyed the music and the text. The poem, by Matthew Arnold, was brought to life by the quartet, whose music ebbs, flows and crashes like waves on the beach. Though the poem is English, we mustn’t forget Barber grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania and was one of the first graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music. How fortunate were we to be able to hear Mr. Youngblood in one of his rare local performances!

The Quartet played Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13. with gusto. Mendelssohn wastes no time, diving immediately into the brooding angst of the piece. The second movement is reflective and calmer than the first. It almost seems an explanation of the raw emotions that have been exposed. In the third movement, the gypsy-like motive lends some lightness to the quartet, but by the fourth movement, the original theme returns. After several deceptive cadences, Mendelssohn builds the tension until the very end. I was astounded to learn Mendelssohn had only been seventeen when he composed this quartet. He was in good, youthful company with the other composers featured in this wonderful concert: Barber was thirty-one when he composed Dover Beach and Mozart was twenty-nine when he completed his quartet in C major, K 465. Be sure to hear the Serafin String Quartet’s next performance on March 10 at 12:30 pm at First & Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington!

For more information about the Calvary Community Series:


For more information about the Serafin String Quartet:


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