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Three by Four

Ekdellion String Quartet, Leipzig String Quartet, Cuarteto Latinoamericano

Jefferson Jackson Steele
In The Chamber: The Endellion Quartet Performs at Evergreen House.

By Lee Hodges | Posted 6/30/2004

New Chamber Festival, Evergreen House and Peabody Institute, June 25 and 26

Few sensations are more rewarding than the intimacy of chamber music. Members of a chamber group enjoy a sense of camaraderie that cannot be duplicated by the grandeur of an orchestra. That sense of unity was evident during the first two days of Baltimore’s second annual New Chamber Festival. Festival president Bill Nerenberg has aimed to combine listening pleasure with education, and each concert was accompanied by a lecture, making the festival a kind of panorama of the possibilities open to string quartets.

Friday evening at the Evergreen’s 1870s Carriage House, the Endellion String Quartet began with Bohuslav Martinu’s String Quartet No.7. Although the players maintained a good deal of unity, the performance lacked some of the inspiration and intensity brought to the other two works on the program—Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No.6 and Leos Janacek’s String Quartet No.2, “Romantic Letters.” The first four notes of Bartók’s first movement eerily mimicked the opening of Nino Rota’s celebrated theme for The Godfather, but the four-movement work soon broke into impassioned playing, particularly the stirring march of the second movement. Janacek’s “Romantic Letters” refers to the composer’s love for Kamilla Stosslova, a married woman 38 years his junior, and he turned that passion into luscious themes. The Endellion players brilliantly contrasted the grandeur of these themes with frequent, shrill tremolos. Janacek’s String Quartet No. 2 ends with a series of brilliant, inconclusive, and unresolved chords, the composer unable to satisfy his pent-up feelings for Stosslova.

The festival’s second day moved to the Peabody Institute, where the Leipzig String Quartet turned to German music, opening with Theodor Adorno’s Six Studies, which forms a fascinating tableau of emotions and images that the quartet conveyed very effectively through skillful articulation and studied dynamic. The Leipzig followed that with Igor Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet, the pieces contrasting sharply in both character and temperament. The first was remarkably spirited, like a folk dance; the second was more theatrical, featuring abrupt, loud-soft changes in dynamics; and the third was haunting, fading away at its conclusion. The quartet displayed a remarkable ability to switch moods quickly and convincingly.

The concert continued with Hanns Eisler’s String Quartet No.1 (Op. 75). Here, Eisler doesn’t follow the usual three- or four-movement design for a quartet. Rather, he begins with an “Introduktion,” which contains textures that lend a mysterious, ethereal air to the piece. It’s followed by a Finale, and both movements use the same material developed in diverse ways, and the Leipzig String Quartet navigated this work with subtlety and nuance. The concert concluded with the mercurial, complex String Quartet No. 3, Op. 30, by Arnold Schoenberg, and its Schumann-like second movement, with its dotted rhythms, and the shrieking voice of the Intermezzo were particularly well done.

ýhat evening the Cuarteto Latinoamericano turned toward Latin American and Iranian music, beginning its program with Silvestre Revueltas’ Cuarteto No. 3. Revueltas’ music has only begun to be widely appreciated in recent years, but he is regarded to have been the equal—if not superior—of his famous contemporary and compatriot, Carlos Chávez. Revueltas’ explosive and passionate nature as a composer were abundantly on display in his Cuarteto No. 3, with many abrupt juxtapositions of loud, recitative-like passages with somber, reflective ones, vacillations between serenity and turmoil.

Following the Metro Chabacano by Javier Alvarez was Iranian composer Reza Vali’s String Quartet No. 3. Vali is an avid student of Iranian folk music, a fact that was fully reflected in the second movement with its lusty, vigorous rhythms and melodies. His String Quartet No. 3 painted mental images of people dancing vigorously with gesticulating arms and undulating legs. The concert concluded with the celebrated Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 30. Ginastera is well known for his vigorous rhythms, and the Cuarteto Latinoamericano performed this rousing piece with an appropriately ebullient panache.

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