|Copeland String Quartet & Grant Youngblood |
at Market Street Music. Photo by Joe Gawinski.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
By Margaret Darby
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.