in: Reviews

November 27, 2017

Introducing Calidore and Shaw in Concord

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A big thank-you to the Concord Chamber Music Society, who presented the Calidore String Quartet allowing a gratifying and at times affecting first encounter for many. For starters, the name Calidore derives in part from “California,” the “golden state” and in part from the French word for golden, “doré.”

These four young string musicians are noticeably on their way, having been honored with the Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award and with debuts at the Kennedy Center, and performances in Philadelphia, Paris, Brussels, Cologne, and Barcelona. To a certain extent, their Sunday afternoon Concord concert showed why the ensemble of violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi is in increasing demand.

They played right into the fine acoustics of the Concord Academy Performing Arts Center, which brought listeners into the thick of Calidore’s sonic action. The absorbent carpeting and curtains revealed everything of the quartet’s wealth of dynamics and timbres.

To open, Calidore went for one of Haydn’s much-loved works, Quartet in D Major, “The Lark.” Over the finely tuned and synchronized pizzicatos, the lark appeared distinctly bright. Conversation via Calidore went mostly straight ahead pointing toward the folkish side of Haydn.

Summoning eloquence appeared not to be the aim. A propos are the program notes on the Haydn from the pen of musicologist Steven Ledbetter, “…the four participants support one another, interact, discuss and (occasionally) argue with the musical equivalent of that most prized of the social qualities in eighteenth-century life, the art of conversation.”

Certainly sounding well-practiced in shaping these Classical era’s phrasings, the four stayed admirably on a Calidore course, taking the Adagio to statements both clear and concise. The Menuetto; Allegretto followed suit and the Finale: Vivace took to a perfect speed, one that with their obviously advanced technique should have found time to nudge a little here and there the neatly wrinkled hornpipe-like fiddling lines of the ever-playful Haydn.

To many at the near-filled Concord Academy’s comfortable space, hearing the music of Caroline Shaw was also a first. Robust applause followed a pair of her works, Entr’acte (minuet & trio) dating from 2011 and First Essay: Nimrod written in 2016 for the Calidore Quartet. Born in 1982 in Greenville, South Carolina, Shaw became the youngest composer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for her composition, Partita for 8.

Both of her original works generously entailed traditional centuries old harmonic patterns opting at times for dissonant entanglements, resulting in an accessible musical language. Calidore’s playing that she describes as “wonderfully thoughtful” was, in fact, just that. About her Calidore piece were Shaw’s own these refreshing words. She begins, “…I wanted to lunge into language… . The piece…soon begins to fray as the familiar harmony unravels into tumbling fragments and unexpected repetitive tunnels…like the odd way dreams can transform one thing into another.”

Echoes of Phillip Glass and Pachelbel, among others, made their way into the patchy patterned panoply of Shaw’s texture-timbre ambitions. Speech or dream, this type of continuum could not sustain attention. One positive for certain to say about her work, is her avoidance of any slickness, and that would also go for an authentic performance from the Calidore four, one truly revitalizing in and of itself.

Calidore left behind a generalness they gave to Haydn’s quartet and went to manifest precision in Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80. Written in the wake of Fanny Mendelssohn’s death, Felix’s quartet “takes a tremendous amount of frenetic energy to get through,” Calidore acknowledged.

Anguish broke out immediately with heavily accented playing sending hands to clutch armrests. Threatening tremolos arose to a near breaking or overwhelming point. For the second movement Calidore adeptly shifted to agitation then to triggering a tugging at the heart. For the fourth movement, crescendo after crescendo barely missed finding the right successive energy levels. The finish to the Mendelssohn fully fleshed-out  Mendelssohn’s tragedy.

Calidore String Quartet (Sophie Zhai photo)

WCRB recorded the concert, which will be broadcast at 7 pm the Sunday before the Society’s March 18th concert.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). www.notescape.net

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