Mark Gresham | 26 FEB 2019
On Sunday’s sunny afternoon at Atlanta’s Spivey Hall the Calidore String Quartet (violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry and cellist Estelle Choi) performed a pair of “final” quartets by Haydn and Beethoven along with a pair of intriguing 21st century works by a Pulitzer prize-winning American composer.
The group opened with Haydn’s String Quartet in F major, Op. 77 No. 2, his final completed string quartet, penultimate to the inspired but unfinished B-flat quartet that was to have been the third in the Op. 77 set, became designated Op. 103 by its publisher.
From the outset of its opening Allegro moderato, the Calidore String Quartet, brought for an insightful rendering of the work that was full of finesse and detail. The minuet that followed bounced along quickly in a manner that leaned in the direction of a scherzo (marked Presto, ma non troppo) and toyed with perception of meter through hemiolas, with a surprising shift of key down a major third for its contrasting Trio. The mantle of graceful, courtly dance taken on by the ensuing Andante and he Vivace assai finale wrapped it all up exuberantly.
In 2013, New York-based vocalist, violinist, composer and producer Caroline Shaw became the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Partita for 8 Voices, written for the adventuresome Grammy-winning vocal project Roomful of Teeth, of which she is a member.
Note to long-time Atlanta residents: The program booklet emphasizes that “she is not related to the beloved conductor Robert Shaw or his wife Caroline” lest there be any undue speculative confusion. This Caroline Shaw hails from Greenville, North Carolina and did her university studies at at Rice, Yale and Princeton.
Calidore Quartet brought two of Shaw’s compositions to the Spivey stage on Sunday: Entr’acte and First Essay: Nimrod.
Entr’acte was inspired directly by the very same Haydn string quartet which opened the program, so is a natural piece to follow it as introduction to Shaw’s string quartet music. It was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet perform that Haydn quartet, taken particularly the Minuet and its tonal shift from F major to D-flat major for the Trio.
The other, Nimrod, was composed in 2016 for Calidore String Quartet. In the composer’s words, it “began as an exercise in translating the lilt and rhythm of one of my favorite authors, Marilynne Robinson, into music” in addition to her perceptions of how the Quartet itself approaches music.
Both were intriguing new works, if in similar ways. Rather forthright, confident themes alternate with others that want to meander down un-trodden side paths before, often suddenly, finding that assured footing again with a new statement of a primary theme in an audibly fresh pitch center.
Moreover, the attention to articulation and the shaping of sustained tones are prominent in Shaw’s two quartet pieces (if less wide-ranging extent than with vocal techniques in her Partita) through varied bowing, pizzicati and harmonics to more adventurous expressive employment of pitch bending, portamenti and longer glissandi.
In a conspicuous programming parallel to the opening Haydn quartet, the concert concluded with Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 – his last-composed string quartet, although an earlier one of his final three quartets was designated Op. 132.
The opening fugue was captivatingly introspective in its unhurried deployment, setting the stage for the remarkable integrated musical journey Beethoven laid out over the course of the work’s seven uninterrupted movements. The Calidore String Quartet gave Beethoven’s music the sense of grandeur it is due without resorting to excess, but with deep emotional investment. ■