Early and Soon
Rose Studio, Lincoln Center
Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80
Johannes Brahms: String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111
Calidore String Quartet: Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan (violins), Jeremy Berry (viola) Estelle Choi (cello) – Roberto Diaz (viola)
The Calidore String Quartet
“The world is too much with us; late and soon...”
“Here masculine strength is coupled with cheerful gaiety.”
Karl Geiringer, Brahms, His Life and Work
New York is an extremely hectic place and its spots of respite few and far between. The excellent Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center provides just such a balm at the Rose Studio where concerts start at 6:30 (there is also a later show) and last only one hour, enough time for intellectual sustenance that refreshes and strengthens the spirit for the next crisis of urban living. Such an event this week led to one of the lesser known of the Brahms chamber repertoire masterpieces, one of the two string quintets.
Brahms was so pleased with his Opus 111 that he swore to retire and not fashion any more music. Luckily he changed his mind and composed all of those amazing chamber works for clarinet as a valedictory. But the String Quintet is also a milestone, constructed in opposites, jaunty and sweet, expansive and intimate. It was a fine main course prepared by the Calidore Quartet.
But first Mendelssohn. The String Quartet No. 6 was the last significant work completed by the composer and was subtitled “Requiem for Fanny” – who had died recently. Felix would himself follow his sister to his reward soon thereafter. As a pair, as well as individually, they are rather mysterious creatures, portrayed as producing masterpieces but not necessarily living up to their potentials. Felix always insisted that Fanny was the more talented while he was gifted not only in music but also in the visual arts. Some of his works are simply pretty while others are profound. The grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, he was nurtured by an intellectual family and was born and raised as a Protestant although his lineage was Jewish. In the Jirí Weil novel Mendelssohn is on the Roof, Nazi soldiers, ordered to destroy the statue of the Jewish composer, cannot tell which one of the memorials is for him. The perfect metaphor for this unusual universal figure.
But there is little doubt about the quartet in question. A somewhat neglected masterpiece, it received a warm, colorful and exciting reading this evening. The ghostly aspects of the Allegro assai were especially effective as was the strong playing of cellist Estelle Choi.
Some old guy came out before the rendition of the Brahms. He turned out to be Roberto Diaz, the president of the Curtis Institute and the former principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He rather self-effacingly took the second viola part in this superb rendition.
This was a full-bodied recreation with its own ghostly section (the Un poco allegretto) and an overall rather full-bodied sound – an absolute requirement of the score that can be otherwise cavalierly ignored. The young musicians demonstrated a strong maturity that pleasantly surprised and carried the day splendidly. This is no country for young men (and Ms. Choi) and the Calidores were not daunted. Rather they were confident and secure. Much credit to the society for both finding and encouraging such promising musicians. The average age of the audience members was well above fifty and we were all buoyed by such warm and sympathetic playing by our juniors and their guest.