Showing posts with label Copeland String Quartet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Copeland String Quartet. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Copeland String Quartet Closes Their Season with Brahms

Copeland String Quartet with guest clarinetist Charles Salinger. 
Photo courtesy of Copeland String Quartet.
By Christine Facciolo
Chamber music aficionados packed the pews at the Church of the Holy City on Sunday afternoon for the season-closing concert of the Copeland String Quartet. It was certainly an event worth venturing out for on a rainy spring afternoon, and the musicians appeared quite delighted at the capacity audience.

The main offering on the program was Brahms’ autumnal masterpiece, the Clarinet Quintet, featuring the talents of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s principal clarinetist Charles Salinger.

The work was premiered by none other than the Joachim Quartet led by violinist Joseph Joachim with clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld whose playing impressed Brahms so much he came out of compositional retirement to write this enduring masterpiece for him.

This is a difficult work to pull off. Brahms was a master of counterpoint, skilled in the subtleties of rhythm and melody. There’s a lot going in a Brahms composition and unless the players have a broad sense of the work, the result can be turgid and endlessly dull.

Happily, that did not happen here. Copeland turned in an achingly beautiful performance with a lush string sound overlaid by Salinger’s lithe and liquid clarinet. The poignancy of alternating major and minor tonalities was interspersed with decisive declamatory passages. Salinger’s rhapsodic playing over wavering strings in the second movement entered into a shadowy dialogue with Eliezer Gutman’s first violin, colluding in final rising arpeggios. Salinger’s virtuosic command of his instrument revealed itself in the mercurial leaps of the third movement. Gutman navigated his colleagues through some intricate tempi in the fourth movement which also afforded a solo opportunity to cellist Jie Jin.

Music of a very different sort opened the program: Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 in F major. The Third was the only work composed by Shostakovich in 1946, an indication of the trouble that lay ahead. The Zhdanov Decree was two years away but already the attacks had begun against artists and writers.

The writing in this quartet makes incredible demands on the players. Much of it is set in the instruments’ higher registers and there are instances of soloistic virtuosity that seem at odds with the ensemble playing expected in a quartet. Furthermore, the harmonic language is gritty. Each movement is in a home key but the continuously chromatic writing obscures the tonality.

Copeland offered a most impressive rendering of this emotional work. The players applied a light touch to the almost Haydnesque first movement, took a cautiously restrained approach to the ominous second and unleashed the demonic power of the Scherzo. The last two movements took the audience to an even darker place before settling into an uneasy peace with the three closing F major chords.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Music on Your Lunch Break in Downtown Wilmington

By Margaret Darby

Copeland String Quartet & Grant Youngblood
at Market Street Music. Photo by Joe Gawinski.
If you have never been to one of Market Street Music’s Thursday Noontime Concerts, it is worth organizing a trip to First & Central Presbyterian Church.  The concerts are only 30-minutes long, so they would serve as a gentle introduction for a person who is new to classical music. The selections are varied and intriguing – a taste of music by local performers. 

On March 30, the Copeland String Quartet and baritone Grant Youngblood performed Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach, which Barber composed at age 21. The piece starts with a quiet repeated pattern by the first and second violins, evoking the rocking tide of a quiet ocean. Youngblood began with a soft yet penetrating “The sea is calm” over that pattern. The sound became louder as the poem evokes Sophocles’ comparing the rhythm of the ebb and flow of the ocean to the sound of misery. The music builds to its climax, “Let us be true to one another!”  

The performance was beautifully controlled and the quiet attack and gradual build to the climax and fading away to nothing was also like an ocean wave, but this was slightly different from what Mr. Barber had originally put in his score. When I listened to a 1983 Nonesuch recording of the work with Leslie Guinn and the New York Art Quartet, the cover notes by Phillip Ramey quoted his 1977 interview with Mr. Barber. Barber said of Dover Beach, “Originally, I cut the middle part about Sophocles. Soon after Dover Beach was finished, I played it at the Owen Wister house in Philadelphia and Marina Wister exclaimed, ‘Be where’s that wonderful part about Sophocles?’ (Conversation was at a high level at those grand Philadelphia houses – if you said Sophocles when you meant Aeschylus, you simply didn’t get another drink.) I realized that Philadelphians, who are infinitely more educated than New Yorkers, would know their Matthew Arnold, and that she was quite right, so I wrote a contrasting middle section. The piece was better for it.”  And I agree.

The second piece in this mini-concert was String Quartet No. 1, which Charles Ives composed when he was 21. He used some well-known tunes, in particular hymns.  Ives’ harmonizations in this early work were exploratory and sometimes use clashing dissonances. The Copeland Quartet, with Ross Beauchamp as their guest cellist in this concert, unfurled the canonic harmonies of the fugal first movement and took their time ro permit clarity in the very acoustically live sanctuary. Ives became more daring with his harmonies with each successive movement. The fourth and final movement was a glorious experiment in harmonic changes and 3/4 over 4/4 meter – reprising the Shining Shore theme from the second movement, the Coronation from the first, and a smattering of the hymn tune Stand up for Jesus. The effect was described by my companion as ‘a sandbox of harmony”. The quartet played the difficult piece with panache, showing us how, as another member of the audience noted, that without Charles Ives there would have been no Aaron Copland. 

Upcoming Market Street Music concerts are Minas on Thursday, April 6 and OperaDelaware Sneak Preview on Thursday, April 20, both at 12:30.