For its return to the Boston music scene [the foursome played Harvard Musical Association in 2009, as well as Rockport in 2012 and 2014], the Calder Quartet stayed true to its ethos by introducing the first string quartet of emerging Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös and sharing significant milestones of the quartet repertoire, including firsts of Mozart’s “Haydn” quartets and Beethoven’s “late” period.
Inspired by Haydn’s Op. 33 string quartets, Mozart composed a set of six string quartets dedicated to his mentor. The concert opened with the first of these; the string quartet in G major, K.387. The foursome made much of the first movement’s rapid forte and piano alternations. Tereza Stanislav projected a mellow second subject on the second violin before her counterpart Benjamin Jacobson on first took an energetic interpretation an octave higher. The duple pattern of dynamic contrasts in the minuet theme provided a challenge for both these musicians and the dancers for whom this movement was meant, while maintaining signal group stability. The standout awkwardness of the theme also highlighted the individual talents of each player; together, as elsewhere, they projected dynamic strength in the opening chords of the trio. The star of the slow movement was the first violin. Jacobson gave a dainty performance of its intricate passagework, which was sometimes answered by Eric Byers on cello. Away from the main action, Stanislav on second violin and Jonathan Moerschel on viola stole glances at each other to coordinate the harmonic structure. The opening, four-note fugal theme of the finale teased the audience with its similarity to the finale of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. The brilliance of rapid passage work interspersed with rhythmical spiccato drove this movement forward. The Calder’s bouncing bows conveyed a visual urgency and also accentuated the humor of the understated ending.
Péter Eötvös’s compositions aimed to evoke a sense of narrative. He based his first string quartet Korrespondenz on the correspondence between Mozart and his father. The cello took the role of father Leopold whilst the viola represented Wolfgang. The quartet also rearranged their seating to reflect the dialogue of this work, with Moerschel taking the leader’s seat on viola opposite his “father” Byers on cello. Moerschel also gave a brief speech to explain the work, which, arranged in three scenes, educated the audience on the variety of bowing techniques on display. The first scene was based on Leopold’s advice to Wolfgang about his love for Aloysia Weber, his soprano student. Rapid glissandos exchanging between viola and cello characterized this scene. Harmonics, sul ponticello, and unconventional pizzicato represented Wolfgang’s struggles in Paris for the second scene of the piece. The third scene used dynamic contrasts to convey the conflict between Wolfgang’s joy at a successful premiere and the anguish of his mother’s death.
The majestic opening of Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127 hammered home the E-flat major key in a way that reminded this writer of the Eroica symphony and the Emperor concerto. Beethoven wrote this late period example for Prince Nikolay Galitsin in 1825. Jacobson gave an energetic exploration of the first theme after each of the maestoso chord sequences. His tune fought against the backdrop of forte double-stop chords on second violin and viola, projecting well in the lower registers but sometimes losing volume in the higher notes. The long adagio of this work reflected similar movements in Beethoven’s late period, in particular the Hammerklavier piano sonata and the ninth symphony. The first violin heroically explored this set of theme and variations with Jacobson meandering through every modulation, rhythm, and note. Jacobson and Stanislav engaged in a lively duet in the second variation and provided a short interlude from the expressive laments of the movement. Beethoven’s love of rhythmical motifs was evident in the scherzo with its skipping short-long staccato theme. Initially explored by the cello, then viola and second violin, it provided a light-hearted relief and a brief rest for the first violin after the long themes in the adagio. The dissonant chords that started the finale would anticipate the opening of the Grosse Fuge. For now, it only provided a short interjection before the joyous main theme arrived. The ensemble again made its dynamic range evident especially in this movement’s forte passages; the concert closed with some impressive chord flourishes.