Showing posts with label Mendelssohn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mendelssohn. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Serafin Quartet 'Reunites' Two Celebrated Composers

By Christine Facciolo

Born one year and 300 miles apart, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann met for the first time in Leipzig on August 31, 1835. The Serafin String Quartet reunited them at Wilmington’s Trinity Episcopal Church with a program of two of their most Beethoven-inspired works: the A minor quartet, Op. 13 (Mendelssohn) and the A major quartet, Op. 41, No. 3 (Schumann). The date was also — coincidentally — the 210th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth.  

Mendelssohn, often referred to as the “classical romantic,” was a most celebrated composer during his lifetime. His stature slipped somewhat during the 20th Century, but this most underrated of the Romantics is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as many top-flight recordings and performances of his works indicate.

The Serafin Quartet. Photo courtesy of the artists.
Mendelssohn was just 18 years old when he wrote his A minor String Quartet in 1827, which was also the year Beethoven died. The Beethovian influence is evident, as are influences from Mozart and Haydn. The quartet also displays the young composer’s facility with the cyclical technique and exhibits a degree of passion and drama not characteristic of Mendelssohn.

Kate Ransom’s first violin was reliably lyrical and dramatic in the highly expressive opening movement, while the ensemble played as if it were one. The musicians lovingly conveyed the aching sorry of the second movement, a complex and dramatic affair marked adagio non lento (“slow not slow”). Beautifully judged phrasing and dynamics characterized the fiendishly difficult third movement with its contrasting moods.

The finale returned to the emotional world of the first movement. Beethoven’s influence again evident with its stormy recitative over tremolo accompaniment. The Serafin delivered a glowing and energetic performance of this most complex movement yet managed a conclusion that was gentle and calming.

Schumann’s A major quartet was again delivered with tonal precision and blend. In the first movement, the playing was flexible and fluid, capturing the halting nature of the music with its unsettling syncopations. The musicians delivered the fugato and tempo risoluto sections of the second movement with a muscular certainty, while the finale was exuberant and full of toe-tapping dance.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Pyxis Lights Up Market Street Music Festival Concert Series

By Christine Facciolo
The Sunday, October 14, 2018 concert by Pyxis Piano Quartet — as part of Market Street Music's Festival Concert series — at Wilmington’s First & Central Presbyterian Church revealed once again the abundance of talent within each member of this laudable ensemble.  Members include Luigi Mazzocchi, violin; Amy Leonard, viola; Jennifer Jie Jin, cello and Hiroko Yamazaki, piano.


This 90-minute program offered works from the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, including two of the most demanding in the repertoire: Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478 and Mendelssohn’s Piano Quarter in F minor, No. 2, Op. 2.

Mozart seems to have invented the piano quartet. There are no examples of the genre among his contemporaries or immediate predecessors, including the very inventive Haydn. He left only these two work but they count among the very best in the repertoire.

Mozart’s G minor quartet grew out of a commission from the Viennese publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister for three such works. The remaining two were canceled when the publisher felt the finished work was too difficult for the amateur musician 
 the usual market for keyboard-based chamber music.

Pyxis Piano Quartet (L-R): Amy Leonard, violaHiroko Yamazaki, piano; Jennifer Jie Jin, cello Luigi Mazzocchi, violin.
The quartet features true chamber music equality of part-writing, juxtaposing concerto-like passages in the piano with others in which the instrument fades and blends in with the strings in a lively interplay. The musicians effectively kept up the momentum throughout a cliffhanger of a development section which often hints at a resolution only to give way to other material. The second movement captivated with the sheer beauty of the playing, while the ensemble’s gentle handling of the phrasing in the finale provided a joyous conclusion to this darkly dramatic work.

Pianist Hiroko Yamazaki assumed an even more virtuosic role in Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet, while the string players offered less flamboyant bits, albeit ones that carried the thematic material. Leonard’s viola got to show off its high register during the exposition of the second theme. Yamazaki again displayed virtuosic technique in the rolling figurations throughout the Adagio movement which exhibited pure early Romanticism. The strings at last assumed an (almost) equal footing with their keyboard companion in the whiplash final movement.

The concert opened with a fine performance by Mazzocchi and Leonard of Martinu’s Three Madrigals for the (seemingly) austere combination of violin and viola. Each artist exaggerated the sounds of their instruments: Mazzocchi played up the brightness of the violin while Leonard reveled in the richness and warmth of the viola. 


It would have been tempting to blend the sounds but this approach maintained the independent voices when it mattered most. The result was what sounded like a unique instrument with a remarkable range of timbre and pitch. The two instruments matched when in the same range, establishing unity while preserving the individual capabilities of both. This was exploited to maximum effect during the playful competition of the many imitative passages.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

DSO's Third Chamber Concert Celebrates Black History Month

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra used the occasion of its third chamber series concert of the season to commemorate both Black History Month and the 50th anniversary of the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The February 20 program, titled “Triumph over Adversity," featured an eclectic mix of solo piano pieces, chamber music, German Lieder and African-American spirituals performed by symphony members David Southorn (concertmaster), Philo Lee (principal cello), Lura Johnson (principal piano) and guest artist bass-baritone Kevin Deas.

Johnson opened the concert with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso in E major. This is a work that contains the meaty technical challenges that showcase Johnson’s virtuosity, something DSO audiences rarely get to hear. She delivered the Andante section with suitable solemnity then launched into the Presto without hesitation.

Johnson was then joined by Southorn and Lee in a performance of the composer’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor. One could not help but be impressed by the unflagging passion and athleticism of the musicians. They gave it their considerable all. From the darkly etched and fiery opening movement, to the emotional slower passages and the skittering scherzo, they generated a palpable energy that culminated in a rousing and brilliant finale.

After intermission, bass-baritone Kevin Deas processed into the Gold Ballroom singing Wayfairing Stranger, an entrée to the segment of the program devoted to the spiritual. If Paul Robeson is considered to be the gold standard of this vocal fach, then Deas is not far behind. Deas’ voice was nothing short of breathtaking, as he applied it to some of the repertoire’s best-loved spirituals, including Wade in the Water and City Called Heaven.

Deas proved to be a most gracious artist as well, taking to the microphone to inform the audience about the function of the Negro spiritual as well as the unlikely collaboration between Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and the African-American classical composer Henry Burleigh, who made the arrangements of the spirituals heard this concert.

Deas also offered some personal insights into his selections, as in how his mother hated to hear him sing Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, until he explained that the song wasn’t a personal commentary on their relationship but rather an expression of despair and hopelessness.

Deas then offered several selections of Schubert Lieder that were in keeping with the concerts overall theme of life’s long journey, including Der Wegweiser (from “Die Winterreise”), Wohin (from “Die Schone Mullerin”), Im Abendrot and Dem Unendlichen. Johnson prefaced this section with an expressive yet unsentimental rendering of the composer’s lyrical Impromptu in G-flat major.

Deas also performed I Heard the Cry of Wild Geese, an expression of longing for home and loved ones, from Four Songs on Chinese Poetry by Pavel Haas, the Czech composer who perished in the Holocaust.

Johnson also performed Liszt’s transcription of Widmung (“Dedication”), a song that Robert Schumann had originally in 1856 for Clara Wieck, whom he married that year. Although her technical mastery would allow her to grandstand the more virtuosic passages, Johnson downplayed this aspect of the piece in favor of the fervor of Schumann’s music. She prefaced her performance with a reading of the German text and its accompanying English translation.

Deas concluded the concert with Deep River, a selection he called probably the best-known and best-loved spiritual.

See www.delawaresymphony.org.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Organist David Schelat Opens Market Street Music's Festival Concerts

By Christine Facciolo

Organist/composer David Schelat explored the Baroque and beyond Saturday, October 14, kicking off a brand new season of Market Street Music at First & Central Presbyterian Church on Rodney Square in Wilmington.

Schelat’s program traced J.S. Bach’s steps back to his admirer Dietrich Buxtehude then forward to  his “rescuer” Felix Mendelssohn as well as offering a sampling of Bach himself.

The first half of the program featured three Baroque “Bs”: Bruhns, Buxtehude and Bach. Their work spanned the years 1664-1750, a time when north German mercantile trade funded both composers and construction of pipe organs on increasingly grander scales.
The music of this period was largely improvisatory and known as stylus fantasticus, characterized by short contrasting episodes and free form. Bruhns’ Praeludium in E Minor exemplifies this style and Schelat delivered it with insight and intelligence, maintaining the thematic material clearly while providing auditory interest in the repeated ornamentation with a variety of colorful registrations.

Buxtehude’s O Morning Star, how fair and bright (Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern) again showed Schelat’s expertise with the articulation of Baroque musical gestures.
Bach received his due with a rendering of the Prelude and Fugue in G Major (BWV 541) that was both meaty and full of energy. Tucked between them was the melodic simplicity of the chorale prelude Blessed Jesus, we are here (Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 730).

From Spain came Juan Cabanilles’ Corrente Italiana, a mixture of Renaissance and Baroque. Schelat added a subtle touch of percussion to good effect.

There were more surprises following intermission, including an organ sonata by C.P.E. Bach, J.S. Bach’s second surviving son. Although much better known for his harpsichord works, Bach did produce six organ sonatas on commission from Princess Anna Amalia, sister of his then employer, King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The writing is for manuals only, because the Princess was — reportedly — unable to play the pedals.

Schelat offered an effervescent rendering of the Sonata No. 5 in D Major (Wq70), indulging in much hopping between the two manuals — and adding a bit of pedal — to create a sheer delight for the ear.

Another pleasant surprise came with a performance of the Andante sostenuto from Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphonie Gothique. This sweet, meditative piece allowed Schelat to reveal a whole other side to a composer better known for the pyrotechnics of his Toccata in a work we rarely get to hear.

The program concluded with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Sonata in B-Flat Major. Mendelssohn had a great love for Bach and played a major role in his revival. While this music is Romantic in its approach, it displays a certain restraint which is very appealing. Schelat obviously loves this music and that affection came through in this assured and sensitive delivery.

Schelat reached into his own catalog for an encore with a performance of Kokopelli, a whimsical piece dedicated to the flute-playing trickster deity who represents the spirit of music and who presides over childbirth and agriculture. Schelat wrote the piece for the Fred J. Cooper Organ Book, which was commissioned by the Philadelphia chapter of The American Guild of Organists to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the organ in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

University of Delaware Hosts a Mendelssohn Marathon

By Margaret Darby
The Music Department of the University of Delaware has put on some amazing concerts over the years. Their latest Mendelssohn Festival with The Calidore String Quartet as visiting guest artists is an ambitious undertaking with all of the published string quartets of Felix Mendelssohn and his Octet for Strings, performed with UD's Ensemble-in-Residence, Serafin String Quartet.

The Calidore Quartet was founded in 2010 while the members were in Los Angeles studying at the Colburn Conservatory. They discovered their potential as an ensemble when they first began to work on the Mendelssohn String Quartet, Opus 13, which was actually the composer’s first mature string quartet, although it was the second to be published.

The Calidore String Quartet.
Mendelssohn was 18 years old he wrote this quartet, and although his prowess as a pianist was well known, he actually played violin and viola quite well, so his composition for both instruments came from a thorough knowledge of how they were played. He, like Beethoven, put a lot of emphasis on the middle voices.

Both Estelle Choi, cello and Jeremy Berry, viola are able to bring these voices to the fore without dominating the ensemble’s sound. The first two movements of Four pieces for quartet, Opus 81 feature the viola leading the melodic chase, but the cello also has a big and dominant part in the Tema con variazioni which segues into a brief but thrilling Presto. Choi’s vibrant tone and acute attention to detail makes the harmony for the quartet work.

In all of the music of the first two days of the festival, the sound was so well blended that it seemed almost to be performed by a single musician. First violinist Jeffrey Myers, a tall and lanky man, leans into his violin, tilting his head to the left as if to hear himself better. But then he turns to the other players before lowering the sound of the violin as he plays in the low register, to just the point at which you can hear his soft melodic line over the others, who manage to play even softer at the end of the Allegro vivace of Opus 13. As the recapitulation of the theme (Mendelssohn’s short song: Ist es wahr?/Is it true?), the quartet diminishes the sound to the softest nothing as they reach the final chord.

When the two violinists Jeffrey Meyers and Ryan Meehan trade off the melodic lines in the Scherzo of the Four pieces for string quartet, Opus 81, it is impossible to tell who is playing. Their innate ability to match each other’s intonation and bowing make it sound like a single line of music. Each of them also have a solid sound in the low register of the violin which projects well, even at a soft dynamic.

The Calidore played the String Quartet Opus 44, No. 3 so fast that the sixteenth note patterns which come after the repeat in the Allegro vivace sound like trills — magically even and exciting. They played the fourth movement, Molto allegro con fuoco, with very big sforzandi, giving the entire movement a playful, roller coaster feel.

When they played the last quartet written by Mendelssohn, Opus 80, they talked about how he wrote this after his beloved sister Fanny died suddenly. He used this very beautiful piece as a metaphor of his grief, writing a wailing and sustained high B-flat for the first violin, which Jeffrey Myers managed to make a delicate cry of anguish.

Having a quartet of this caliber visit the Gore Recital Hall, with its fine acoustics for such intimate concerts, is a treasure. The Calidore have won impressive international chamber music competitions. They have a wide range of repertoire, including some dissonant and modern pieces like the Anton Webern Five Movements for String Quartet, Opus 5, which you can hear online here.

And if you miss the Mendelssohn Festival, the Calidore Quartet’s mentors, the Emerson Quartet, will appear at the University of Delaware on Sunday, April 30.

See www.music.udel.edu or call 302.831.2577.