Monadnock Music presented the Borromeo String Quartet at Peterborough, NH, on Saturday evening, July 16, as the first of the “Chamber Music Masterpieces.” Violinists Nicholas Kitchen and Kristofer Tong, violist Mai Motobuchi, and cellist Yeesun Kim were all wrapping up a week there. They were splendid, as they usually are.
First up was Claude Debussy’s sole string quartet in (g minor, Op. 10), which dates from 1894. It’s a cyclical piece, based on gamelan music, with common themes throughout. Borromeo’s deeply satisfying phrasings were distinct, yet seamless. Mai Motobuchi, on viola, figures prominently, especially in the third movement, which was very poignant; its very elegant, drawn-out pianissimo ending brought neither a move nor a sound from the capacity audience. Other movements had notable figures too, like the second movement’s first violin’s exclamations. The last movement, marked “Très modéré – En animant peu à peu – Très mouvementé et avec passion” was like a gradual crescendo. The one sour note was premature clapping at the end — brought about, no doubt, by enthusiasm towards this superb quartet’s playing.
Then we had a new piece, Daniel Brewbaker’s (b. 1951) String Quartet No. 2 Dance for My Fathers (2006), written in four movements. It is dedicated to Vincent Persichetti, former chairman of the composition department at the Juilliard School, for whose 100th anniversary this work was commissioned. The movements are marked “Roger’s Session” (Allegro deciso) for Roger Sessions, “Gordon’s Garden” (Allegro al spiritoso) for Gordon Binkerd, “Lullaby for My Father (Andantino), and “Dance To The Music” (Presto) for Persichetti.
The adjectives written in my program for the first movement, the tribute to Sessions, were fragmented, harmonically interesting, unison, and soaring. A strong, unison theme alternated with a tentative quieter one; in parts, there was a syncopated rumble, oriental flavors in others. Sessions always said one had to have a “willing ear,” which is good advice for all composers. “Lullaby for My Father” was extremely moving, with a nice pizzicato section. The last movement was appropriately jazzy, containing elements of Shostakovich and Sly and the Family Stone, with a “reel” hoe-down ending.
After intermission came Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat, Op. 74 “Harp” (1809). This falls squarely into the middle period, about 1803 to 1814. The first movement begins gently, almost mysteriously, before giving away to an allegro. The publisher named it “harp” because of the pizzicato section in the allegro section. The slow movement has a distinctive melody and ending. The fast movement that follows is a typical Beethoven romp. “Allegretto con Variazioni” is the perfect way to end this particular quartet.