in: Reviews

August 20, 2018

Dvořák Lightly Deconstructed

by

Antonín Leopold Dvořák

At several venues on the North Shore during its 10th season, the Manchester Summer Chamber Music festival is partnering instruments in refreshing combinations—this past Saturday evening, string quartet and double bass. Those in attendance at the Barn at Castle Hill in Ipswich, got to hear Dvořák interspersed with other composers, and an incandescent talent—Nicholas Schwartz, bassist. And the other young musicians—Eliot Heaton, Violin, Emilie-Anne Gendron, violin, Sophie Heaton, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello— also produced thoughtful and rewarding music.

The evening began and ended with a lightly deconstructed version of Dvořák’s String Quintet no. 2 in G Major, Op. 77—each movement separated from its companions by some other composition. This quintet, first performed in 1876, is actually Opus 18, but was given its later opus number by the publisher, Simrock, in 1888. What’s more, it originally had a 5th movement, an intermezzo, expanded from String Quartet No. 4, and published posthumously.

It becomes clear, particularly when each movement is played consecutively, that this is early Dvořák, not yet as lyrical or as enriched as its rather late opus number would suggest. Unfortunately, the separation rather than joining of movements felt like intermittent showers that matched the rainy evening, or a shuffling in real time, intended, perhaps, to address the habits of current audiences. I didn’t favor it, because these particular quintet movements interrelate, and rhythmic drive that is lost when the movements are separated. Nevertheless, the group played with spirit, superb and sensitive ensemble; and the bassist, Schwartz, is a phenom. The deep bass line, often an octave below the cello, gives satisfying heft and flexibility. Perhaps I need to get “with the times,” but I think it would have enhanced the evening to have heard the piece as the composer intended.

The poignant andante of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44 No. 2, seemed misplaced as sandwiched between the first two movements of the Dvořák, even though rendered with sensitivity. The composer’s familiarity with both violin and viola permeates that lyrical third movement. Written about half a century before the Dvořák, it reflects the happy time just after Mendelssohn’s marriage.

After the scherzo of the Dvořák, a unique and aurally challenging pairing of violin and contrabass, delivered by Schwartz and Eliot Heaton, rendered two of the five Tangos for Violin and Contrabass—St Louis en L’ile and Adios Nonino by Astor Piazzolla. In introducing these, Schwartz noted that the score allows for any instrumental combo, but hearing bass and violin, reflecting the top and bottom of a stringed instrument range, together, seemed rather skeletal and disconnected, if unique. I was disaffected at the start of the Piazzolla, but the able interaction of Heaton and Schwartz won me over, as it did the audience.

The Allegramente of Serenade, for two violins and viola, Op. 12 of Zoltán Kodály opened the second half. The authenticity of this collected folk music is stirring, and the expert realization by the two violinists, Eliot Heaton and Emilie-Anne Gendron, along with violist Sophie Heaton, the sister of Eliot did not let it down.

Then on to the third and fourth movements of the Dvořák, which bracketed the creative and welcome fiddler-composer Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz (1996). His string trio for violin, cello and bass (written for Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and himself), brings aspects of improvisation and jazz to classical style, melding the American folk melodies of Appalachia, carried with an openness by the violin and balanced by the lower lines of the cello and bass. Indeed, the inner voices foreshadow the ineluctable melody, which draws emotion from the core of any listener.

Despite the warmth of the audience the group did not play an encore. I wish they had. All of these young musicians merit further hearing. And Schwartz, who is in the Concertgebouw, will be playing with the BSO in November. I will be sure not to miss him!

Pianist and long-time music lover Julie Ingelfinger enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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