Fine Arts Quartet: Summer Evenings II
Haydn frequently hid audacious harmonic and formal structures under the genial and even witty surface of his compositions. The Quartet in F Major, Opus 74, No. 2, is a case in point. The Fine Arts Quartet — violinist Ralph Evans, second violinist Efim Boico, violist Nicolò Eugelmi and cellist Robert Cohen — played it Sunday, on the second of its Summer Evenings of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where the quartet is in residence.
An odd note at the end of the first section of the opening movement leads to a remote key when that section is repeated. The same note figures prominently in a section of the second movement and shows up again in the first measures of the third movement, where it ultimately leads to another, equally remote key. What might be dismissed as a moment of Haydn’s wit proves to be critical to the structure of most of the piece. Like FAQ’s performance of Beethoven’s Opus 18 quartet a week before, this performance highlighted Haydn’s clean, classical architecture, genial charm and tunefulness.
Ernő Dohnányi‘s Second String Quartet, from 1906, followed. The music of Dohnányi, a slightly older contemporary of Bela Bartók, has more in common with Johannes Brahms, judging by the lush writing in this piece. The rather unusual form comprises three movements, with the slow one at the end.
The first movement is a fairly conventional allegro after a slow introduction. It begins with a lovely violin solo that leads to a lovely andante interrupted by fast outbursts, which ultimately lead to the main section of the movement. In the even faster second movement, a theme chatters away throughout. The finale, a ravishing adagio, lasts as long as the other two movements combined and incorporates themes from those movements. The last third or so of the adagio is especially enchanting, as the chattering theme of the second movement reappears, then gives way to more sedate textures. The opening violin solo reappears and then evaporates.
The Fine Arts Quartet worked magic for Dohnányi from the first measures to the last; the final quiet chords satisfied as much as any fortissimo closing cadence. In his pre-concert talk, Stephen Basson played excerpts from Dohnanyi’s Serenade for string trio and wondered aloud as to why someone who could compose such a piece isn’t better known. I concur.
The Fine Arts replaced an announced Beethoven quartet with Dvořak’s “American” Quartet, Opus 96. Dvořak penned it in two weeks, while vacationing in Spillville, Iowa, in 1893. The American nickname makes sense. The main themes are largely pentatonic, in the way of many American and African-American folk songs. Dvořak invented them, but they still have that “it’s on the tip of my tongue” familiarity. The sound world differs from Haydn’s, but the two works share a certain geniality. Fine Arts Quartet’s reading made that connection and helped Dvořak provide an enjoyable end to this Sunday evening of music.
The third Fine Arts Quartet Summer Evening of Music is set for Sunday, June 24 at 7:30 p.m. Pianist Menahem Pressler and bassist Robert Kassinger will join the FAQ for Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. Also on the program: Mozart’s Quartet, K.575, and Debussy’s Estampes. Admission is free, but tickets are required and demand has been heavy. Call the UWM box office, 414 229-4308, to see if tickets are available. The Summer Evenings take place at the Helen Bader Concert Hall in UWM’s Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Keep track of the Fine Arts Quartet and all of Milwaukee’s performing groups. Bookmark Matthew Reddin’s comprehensive, ever-growing guide to the 2012-13 season. Sponsored by the Florentine Opera.