Monday, March 28, 2016

The Doric Quartet Returns: The "End-of-March" Madness

The Doric Quartet
Who: The Doric Quartet
What: Haydn, Korngold & Beethoven
When: 8 pm Thursday, March 31st
Where: Temple Ohev Sholom (located at 2345 N. Front Street in Harrisburg, between Seneca and Emerald Streets.)
Why: You need an excuse? Well, it's Haydn's Birthday, how's that?

Now that winter's past and Easter is behind us, we look forward to spring and the March program with Market Square Concerts – the very last day of March – and the return of the Doric Quartet who'd first played here in November of 2012, a program that included Schumann's 2nd Quartet, Ernest Chausson's only quartet and Beethoven's Op.131 Quartet, the vast one in C-sharp Minor (well, “vast” in many ways).

This time, they'll play a Haydn quartet, Korngold's 2nd Quartet and another Late Beethoven Quartet, the only slightly less vast Op. 132, the one in A Minor best known as the home of that monumental movement called “Heiliger Dankgesang,” the “Holy Song of Thanksgiving.”

(This post is about Haydn and Korngold: the Beethoven will be a separate post which you can read, here.)

Shortly after their earlier performance here, their violist, Simon Tandree, went on to pursue a different path and so violinists Alex Redington and Jonathan Stone and cellist John Myerscough were joined by violist Hélène Clément. I mention this because, while personnel changes are a part of the chamber music world, you will see video clips from before 2012 and after; just to assure you that, indeed, those are two different people...

They've been recording lots of Haydn over the years – but then there's a lot of Haydn to record – and they'll open the program with the second of the Op.64 quartets (more, as usual, on that later). Last month, they just released a new CD of the six Op.76 quartets, recorded live at London's Wigmore Hall, one of the world's great recital halls. Here – from another Wigmore concert, just a year after their Harrisburg appearance – are the first and last movements of the last of the Op. 20 Quartets, a set which they'd just recorded for Chandos:
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I love their use of vibrato – or rather, their lack of it – in music from this era, before vibrato (considered essential today) became more than just another part of the technical arsenal. It gives music of such light textures greater clarity, what we'd call a “classical” approach which might be more appropriate for Haydn and Mozart than, say, Berlioz or Wagner from the 19th Century's Age of Romanticism (but then neither Berlioz nor Wagner were much interested in chamber music). Even Brahms and Schumann, by comparison, and especially Mendelssohn – all “Romantic” composers by their placement on music history's time-line – are more “classical” in concept or were interested in something considered "old-fashioned" as the string quartet was in the late-19th Century.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold, on the other hand, is all-out Romantic. Best known for his Hollywood film scores and his Violin Concerto (in turn, based on themes from some of those Hollywood film scores), Korngold began as a Viennese child prodigy (his middle name might have been chosen prophetically) before being lured to the New World in 1934 to adapt Mendelssohn's music for a film-adaptation of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (yes, the one with Mickey Rooney as Puck and James Cagney as Bottom). In 1938, he received another Hollywood invitation, this time to write an original score (The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn) so he returned and, after the Nazi's took control of Austria and with war imminent across Europe, decided to stay, becoming an American citizen in 1943.

As Korngold explained, “We considered ourselves Viennese – Hitler made us Jewish.”

Though he stopped writing film scores not long after the war was over, he continued to compose but not as much as before, his reputation as a “serious” musician seriously affected by his fame as a “Hollywood composer.” His last works were completed by 1954 and he died in 1957 at the age of 60.

Among his “concert” works, Korngold also composed three string quartets which the Doric Quartet recorded for Chandos in 2010. The 1st was composed in 1923 and the 3rd in 1945 – the 2nd, which they will perform at Thursday's concert, was written in 1933.

Here's a video clip of the emotionally charged slow movement of Korngold's 3rd Quartet, written in the final year of World War II – how could this music not be affected by recollections of his homeland? This recording is from November, 2010, at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
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The Sunday Times (UK) reviewed their Korngold recording:
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Benchmark performances by a string quartet clearly on the cusp of great things... And what an auspicious beginning it is…From the off, the Dorics stamp their own emphatic claim to ownership with a bold incisive feel for the swirling stylistic and emotional undercurrents in Korngold’s characteristically rhythmically alert, sumptuously lyrical and exquisitely crafted music….
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Here is a sample from Korngold's 2nd Quartet – written in pre-war Vienna – and how much more Viennese can you get than writing a waltz for a finale? Here's a recording by the Flesch Quartet released in 1998:
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Finding a decent recording on You-Tube – at least whose interpretation I find “recommendable” with good audio and a reasonable video component (if not a live performance) – can be a challenge, and the Haydn quartet the Doric plays to open their program is a case in point.

Finding a recent performance by the currently “hot” Danish Quartet, I thought, “oh, this is great,” and started thinking “wait, this isn't the Op.64/2 Quartet I remember,” though it had been maybe 10 years since I last heard it (when the St. Lawrence Quartet played it with MSC at Whitaker Center). “Why, it's not even in B Minor ('something the Composer's Union ought to look into').” Then I noticed one of the comments (which I rarely read) said, “This is actually Op.54 No. 2.” Well, that explains a lot...

Unfortunately, other recordings that were showing up in my searches had serious intonation issues, ponderous tempo choices (“really, guys, it says spiritoso which doesn't mean 'spiritually'...”), or such a 19th-Century concept, it could be a dozen string players, the sound if so fat.

The Tatrai Quartet (with its annoying intonation issues) shows up on several feeds, including one posted by somebody calling themselves “Sonorum Concentus Hyadn.” Outside of the fact the “sound” of this post is even worse than the others, would you trust someone posting Haydn who can't even spell “Haydn”?

Then, doing a third search, one clip by the Amadeus Quartet appeared – oh, wait! Okay, this is what I'm looking for, given the Doric Quartet hasn't posted their own performance yet (why didn't this come up before?). For some reason, the minuet isn't showing up in any of my searches or recommended recordings, but hey...
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1st Movement, Allegro spiritoso (“lively, with spirit”)

2nd Movement, Adagio ma non troppo

4th Movement, Presto

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So, what's the confusion about figuring out which Haydn Quartet (or symphony) you're talking about? If they have nicknames, that makes it easier to tell them apart - "oh, the one I traded for a fine English razor?" (The "Razor" Quartet, Op. 55 No. 2.) Or the one where he had the string players do a special effect with their bows that reminded somebody of frogs? (The "Frog" Quartet, Op. 50 No. 6.) Then there's the one using the Emperor's Hymn he'd composed which became the Austrian National Anthem. (The "Emperor" Quartet, Op. 76, No. 3.) Not to mention the "Lark," the "Sunrise" or, well, yes, the "Joke."

Unfortunately, this one never got a nickname...

One of the problems with “listing” Haydn Quartets is dealing with all those numbers: there's a Hoboken Volume (which is for Chamber Music/Quartets) and a numerical number for the specific work plus it's published Opus number. So while a full listing might be “HobIII:68 Op.64 No. 2,” there are those who maddeningly insist on calling it “Quartet No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 64” which is not quite the same thing.

You see, the B Minor Quartet (one of two quartets he composed in that key) is actually the 2nd of the six quartets published in 1791 as Op. 64 (well, according to the order he wrote them, it was the last).

(By the way, there are nine in C Major. So you can't just say “The String Quartet in C Major by Haydn – which quartet in C Major by Haydn? Hence all the other numbers...)

Officially, the second quartet Haydn wrote is his Op. 1 No. 2 in E-flat Major. This one, Op.64 No. 2 is arguably his 68th Quartet, at least by the catalogue put together by Anthony Hoboken (who has nothing to do with New Jersey – basically, he is to Haydn as Köchel is to Mozart). Or maybe it's his 49th. Or possibly his 32nd, depending on the edition you're using (it's a musicological thing...).

In fact, Haydn's six Op. 3 Quartets may not actually be by Haydn at all, which doesn't help anybody's numbering system.

Oh, well... the best thing is just to listen to the music and let the experts bicker about the bickerables.

As for the mislabeled YouTube posting of the Danish Quartet I mentioned earlier, since it comes up first on every search I've done – in the belief that you can never have too much Haydn (unless, of course, you're recording the Complete Whatever), here's their performance of the equally delightful C Major Quartet, Op. 54, No. 2 (a.k.a. Quartet No. 57 or maybe No. 20 or perhaps it's No. 42...):
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Check here for a post about Beethoven's String Quartet in A Minor Op. 132 (or his Quartet No. 15 - that's it, just #15.)

- Dick Strawser

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