IN: Reviews

Music and Morels

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by Montie Meyer

The Mycelium Quartet (Jennifer Hsiao and Jason Sundram, violins; Elaine Leisinger, viola; Duke Roth, cello) rewarded a packed hall brimming with excitement and anticipation in the Music Monday series at the Scandinavian Center of Newton. The opener, Mozart’s Quartet Op. 10, No.6 (K. 465) “Dissonance,” (1785) is the last of his set of six quartets dedicated to Haydn. Mozart fondly likened these works to his offspring and pleaded with the earlier master to “…look indulgently upon the defects which the partiality of a father’s eye may have concealed from me…” Mozart’s publisher reportedly returned the K. 465 score to the composer, assuming its opening was riddled with copying errors. Specifically, the Adagio starts with foreboding, ominous repeated notes in the cello which herald distorted harmonies in the upper strings, vividly evoking a desolate landscape. Perhaps nonplussed, Haydn according to legend declared that “if Mozart wrote it, he must have meant it.” And indeed Mozart’s transgressive but innovative opening strongly influenced future quartet structures, most notably those of Beethoven. The Adagio cedes to a buoyant, and somewhat more conventional, Allegro. Here, the triplet exchanges between Sundram (first violin) and Leisinger were especially energetic and imbued with a strong sense of direction. Some subtle dissonances recur at the outset of the development — which has an off-kilter vibe, at times reminiscent of testing puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit—before the principal theme returns and the movement fades away gracefully. The Andante Cantabile begins with a richly lyrical melody which is soon followed by a prolonged call and response sequence between first violin and cello. This four-note theme, which Sundram and Roth rendered sensitively, is accompanied by repeated notes in the inner voices. The movement closes with an intimate first violin line, delivered delicately and still underlaid by the four-note theme which Hsiao impactfully brought out of the texture. The Menuet, taken at a brisk tempo with impressive lightness by Sundram, is punctuated by an edgy and restive Trio in C minor.  The two Haydn Enthusiasts (Sundram and Leisinger) among the group must have taken particular pleasure in the Molto Allegro, which paid homage to Haydn with its joviality, pauses, and abrupt key changes.

Mendelssohn completed his Quartet Op. 44 No.2, actually the first quartet composed of the Op. 44 set, in 1837 during his honeymoon in the Black Forest. He wrote all three quartets of Op. 44 for an ensemble led by Ferdinand David, concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to whom Mendelssohn dedicated his E-Minor Violin Concerto. Op. 44 No.2’s onset is diametrically opposite to Mozart K. 465. Absent a prologue, the E minor melody quickly rises over a restless, syncopated accompaniment. The principal theme resembles the opening of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto; Hsiao (first violin) put it forth with conviction and lyrical direction. The second violin leads the development with a rising arpeggio motif that is then handed off among the instruments accompanied by intricate passagework, before the first subtly sneaks into the recapitulation. The second movement is quintessential Mendelssohn: sprites and fairies frolicking in an E major scherzo led strongly by Hsiao and delivered overall with panache. Leisinger especially shone in a beautiful viola countermelody. For the third movement, Mendelssohn specifically notes that performers are not to drag (“durchaus nicht schleppend”), countering any tendency toward the maudlin. The soaring, songlike first violin melody is accompanied by continuous 16th notes; Sundram and later Leisinger provided the necessary rhythmic stability in compelling synergy toward the end of the movement. Roth’s restatement of the melody felt particularly poignant. Back in E minor, the turbulent, intense, and terse fourth movement, features lengthy outbursts of eighth notes, which Hsiao executed at an exciting but never out of control tempo, floating atop catchy melodies in the inner voices. The enthralled audience instantaneously burst into cheers and applause at the close.

Influenced by an array of nonmusical (biochemistry, math, coding, AI, and puzzles) and musical (piano, organ, harp, guitar, voice and songwriting) talents beyond their primary instruments, the Mycelium Quartet interpreted both of today’s works with vigor and sensitivity. We look forward to future offerings of music and morels.

Montie Meyer plays violin in the Brookline Symphony Orchestra and New Philharmonia Orchestra and sings in the Boston Cecilia when he is not working as a psychiatrist.

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