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Apotheosized Form From the Jupiter Quartet


The Jupiter Quartet brought cyclic, coloristic delights to a full house of deeply attentive listeners at a private concert on Beacon Hill last night. The quartet (Nelson Lee, violin; Meg Freivogel, violin; Liz Freivogel, viola; Daniel McDonough, cello) rendered interpretations of the Debussy String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10, the local premiere of Boston’s own Kati Agócs’s Imprimatur (Quartet No. 2) (co-commissioned by Harvard Musical Association), and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 13. Though each of the three works maintained a planetary gravitas of its own, within their three distinct styles of musical rhetoric and technical execution, a covert continuity spoke to a unified spiritual content; in an an apotheosis of greater form, unique musical modes of expression as naturalistic, revealed agents within a whole – that is, music as a philosophical language itself.   

Beginning with an animated take on Debussy’s seminally beloved quartet, dedicated to the French-Wagnerian Ernest Chausson, the ensemble brought the major thematic elements to the fore in a decidedly declamatory statement. Finely attuned to balance, and especially sensitive to the timbrel palette demanded by Debussy, Jupiter conveyed sublime clarity, though forgoing a seductive quality of longueur and rubato, which would have heightened the French-filtered Wagnerian qualities. The second movement scherzo, Assez vif et bien rhythmé, with its notable pizzicati was delightfully ebullient, even more-so when contrasted with the sultry of the inverted theme from the first movement, as the second’s trio. The sublime third movement, among the greatest slow movements in chamber music, came across with warm sensuality. Heeding the tempo marking of Andantino to a point, the doucement and expressif qualities of sweet expression would have piqued the listener at, perhaps, a tempo leaning more towards adagio. The final movement, with its opening recitative in a languid Wagnerian style, blossomed magnificently into the agitated and rhythmically driven body of the movement. The reemerging theme from the first movement, in emotional variation with a flurry of rhythm, gave way to an immense verve of expression to finish.

After Debussy’s Quartet for hors-d’oeuvres, came the Boston premiere of Kati Agócs’s Imprimatur, Quartet No. 2 (defined in Latin as an imprinted mark of devotion). Premiered this past summer at the Aspen Music Festival, the seven continuous movements reminded this listener of Beethoven’s Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, even as the work combines elements of plainchant, Bartok-infused folk rhythms (harkening to Agócs’s own Hungarian roots), with technically expressive counterpoint. Opening with a Recitative, the first movement introduced the Dies Irae plainchant as a robust and fragmentary thesis. Followed directly by the freshly contrasting Ostinato movement, marked by pizzicati and syncopated mixed-meter, one sensed a pleading desperation for a justly pious moral order. Sequences of stark pain from the violins dissolved into the fragmented plainchant once again, in the third movement, Enraptured Troping; the dialogues of priests and preachers expounded platitudes, repetitions, creating growing dissonance. The fourth movement, Meditation – Crystal Chains, emerged as fugal entrances with an occasional high-register stretto. Continuing with confused pleading in dialogue between hysterical register shifts from the violins, contrasted by the Dies Irae from the viola and cello, the movement reached a climax. A brief, plaintive recitative followed from the first violin, which was then enveloped again by the quartet as a whole, before moving into the rhythmically driven flourish of the folk-inspired fifth movement, Wild Dance. This movement, with the rhythmic drive juxtaposed by technical violinistic fireworks, created a Totentanz which seemed to end as soon as it began, then shifting to the sixth movement, Quodlibet (a philosophical/ religious discussion, in the old style). An antiqued style, with Eastern harmonic inflection, paired with fresh modernity, like the second movement, defined the mood of this movement. Broken once again by dissonance, the quartet flowed into the seventh movement, Coda. As a throbbing prayer, the movement scaled heighted rhythmic suspense to its conclusion of the piece, evoking the final climaxes of Bruckner symphonies.  

Mendelssohn’s youthful, fiery, and equally cyclic String Quartet No. 2 formed the concluding bookend; the simple, profound beauty of a Lutheran chorale emerged from the quartet’s Adagio soon leading to the charged body of the first movement, Allegro vivace. The foursome found fine drama in the dynamic contrasts, balancing forces equally, and allowing for Mendelssohn’s clarity of conception to emerge brilliantly, if not sometimes withholding maximum potency. The second movement, Adagio non lento, emerged again as a kind of chorale like the opening, the mood different in its noble processional feeling, evoked the naval gazing of the then 18-year-old Mendelssohn. The viola introduced a fugal theme of eerily Judaic origins, contrasting the initial procession, building to points of passionate climax, before a final recapitulation to the opening mood. The third movement, Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto, danced in the old style, polite, stately, with pizzicato accompaniment. After the viola launched the middle of Allegro di molto with brilliant emphasis, the rest of the foursome, responded to create a scherzo-mood of purely Mendelssohnian delight. Returning by metric expansion via hemiola to the opening dance, the movement finished with a quick-moving coda-farewell in the cello and viola, which was followed by an almost attacca launch into the dramatic first violin recitative of the fourth movement, Presto – Adagio non lento. Driven by agitation, this movement brimmed with maximum fire, the players giving all to the intensity. The final movement found a redemptive light in the Adagio non lento section. Through the ominous clouds of a destructive storm, the repentance of the opening chorale concluded the piece and program with a convivial mood of contentment.

The formidably refined artistry of the Jupiter musicians commanded the attention of the audience throughout the entirety of the complex program.  The four musicians controlled their parts with complete mastery, flexibility, balance, and keen attunement to the expressive needs of their quartet-mates.  Indeed, what sets the Jupiter Quartet apart from others is their control of voicing and their ability to virtuosically navigate and balance maximum expressivity with technical control.

The Jupiter Quartet will perform the Debussy Quartet and the Schubert Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D. 887 with Ashmont Hill Chamber Music tomorrow (Sunday) 4 pm at Peabody Hall, 209 Ashmont Street, in Dorchester.

Cellist, conductor, organizer, commentator, and musical facilitator, Santa Barbara native Nicolas Sterner is the Collaborative Director and Conductor of the Chromos Collaborative Orchestra.


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