Excellence is the common denominator in the chamber music experiences brought to us by the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg, with performances that are noteworthy, engaging, and fulfilling.
This was the case with the appearance of the Doric String Quartet in the Williamsburg Library Theatre. It was one of the more theatrical musical performances we’ve seen—theatrical meant in the best possible sense. The Doric offered a very visible as well as auditory example of that kind of intense engagement. Their body language and constant eye contact offered an intimate exchange of musical messages, which translated into a deep and total involvement with the music and its inner working.
Attention to detail helps to explain the acclaim that Britain’s Doric has garnered around the world. The program booklet offered no biographical information for the quartet: Alex Redington and Jonathan Stone, violin; Helene Clement, viola; John Myerscough, cello. There is little to be found online except that their instruments date from 1708 to 2008, which suggests to me their strong belief in the unity of the group and not individual accolades.
They opened the concert with Haydn’s Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3. Haydn is known as the “father of the string quartet,” having written some 70 quartets. The No. 3 is part of the “Tost Quartets,” a period of substantial growth for him. As with many of his quartets, the work offers innovative structure, irregular phrases and humor. Other than the Adagio with its hymn-like sustained line of elegance, the Haydn is a joyous romp, the spirit of which was fully embraced by the Doric.
The evening closed with Mendelssohn’s F Minor, Op. 80, his last major creation of this genre. It pulses with the emotional stress he felt on learning of his sister Fanny’s death. The depth of his remorse is felt throughout the work, and there is an overall sense of unrest coloring the emotionally driven score. All four movements represent that loss and its impact, the incredibly powerful finale and its flourish of notes, poetically suggesting angst and anger over death. Powerful stuff, powerfully played.
Was this the opening of the fall season or a last-rose-of-summer celebration? I opt for the latter since the trio's usual concert date has been in August for the last several years.
Opening the program were two Celtic Trios: Irish - Pastheen Fionn (The Fair Haired One) and Scottish - Nynth Gwcw (Cuckoo's Nest). The mix of sadness and beauty in the first song changed to a danceable gig with a birdlike recorder played by Stephen Walsh with the strings (violin – Anastasia Migliozzi and guitar – Aníbal Acosta) adding depth in an equality of voices by the trio.
Changing to viola, Ms. Migliozzzi and Mr. Acosta gave us Sonata in D Major by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). The first movement was a brief preludio that led into a lively, brief dance. The Fastasia offered an intense duet that resolved nicely.
With a decisive touch at the piano, Mr. Walsh played a set of five songs titled: “Pioneers: Women of the Jazz Age” that highlighted music by Dana Suesse (1909-1987) an American pianist, composer and lyricist born in Kansas City. After success in popular song writing (My Silent Love, The Night is Young, You're So Beautiful and You Ought to be in Pictures among others), in 1934 she went to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Among many pieces she later composed was Concerto in Three Rhythms for Paul Whiteman (who also commissioned George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for his orchestra).
We heard Seusse's American Nocturne which reflects both jazz and Debussy and 110th Street Rhumba with it's challenging counter rhythms that were down-right toe-tapping.
At the age three, Hazel Scott (1920-1981) came home from church and and sat down at the piano and played the anthem she had just heard. She was a cabaret singer and arranger, who along with other divas such as Lena Horne, Carmen McCray and Pearl Bailey performed at the legendary club Café Society in Greenwich Village in New York City in the 1930s and 40s. Mr. Walsh played three of her piano arrangements where classical music meets jazz: Sleepy Time Gal, If I Had You (Nat King Cole sang this one) and Linger Awhile. This last one began life as a mellow tune but in her arrangement it became a driven, rhythmic study. A contradiction for sure but great fun.
Next we heard the first of two pieces by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), who was a self-taught Baroque composer better known than Bach in their lifetimes. Sonata in A minor, played on guitar and recorder, included an octave leap early on, a peppy Spirituoso movement, a measured, reassuringly paced Andante and a light-as-air, fast paced Vivace to close.
Drawing on the deep history of Spanish guitar repertory, Mr. Acosta played early twentieth-century composer Joaquin Turina (Seville 1882 – Madrid 1949) Homage à Tarrega. Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909) studied at the Madrid Conservatory and concertized in Paris and London. There was no spoken introduction but the work by early 20th century composer Joaquin Turina spoke for itself. The quick, accurate notes were punctuated by percussive strokes on the body of the guitar. Certainly if you hear this piece played under your balcony do toss the player a rose.
To close, the trio came together to play Trio in A Minor by Telemann. The blend of instruments (viola, guitar and recorder) created a synergy that transcended the sound of the individual players and was emotionally evocative. The Vivace fourth movement left me dancing in my imagination.
If you missed the program or want to repeat the experience, the trio's CD ¡Thrum! offers trio Sonata in A minor and also two additional Celtic songs by Acosta. The trio's encore was a quite danceable Irish reel, Road to Listonvarna that is also on the CD.