Christiania Quartet: pianist Julie Coucheron, violinist David Coucheron, cellist Christopher Rec=x and violist Julianne lee perform at Burge Plantation. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Review: Christiania Quartet plays Smetana and Dvořák at Burge Plantation

Mark Gresham | 15 May 2019

MANSFIELD, GA—  The historic Burge Planrtation was the site of Sunday’s concert by the Christiania Piano Quartet, presented by the Madison Chamber Music Festival.

Located 50 miles east of midtown Atlanta and 20 miles west of Madison, Burge Plantation is a 1000-acre private hunting club that makes its dining and meeting facilities available for approved non-member events during selected months out of the year.

Violinist David Coucheron, cellist Christopher Rex and pianist Julie Coucheron, opened the program with the Piano Trio in G minor, Op. 15, by Bedřich Smetana, written in 1855 after the death of his daughter, Bedriska.


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The piece began with solo violin playing a dramatic theme that set the tone first movement with only brief respite provided the lyrical secondary theme.

The theme of second movement’s opening section alludes to the first, but in the manner a cheerful albeit dark-hued dance. A pair of trios labelled “Alternativo” intercede between its iterations: the first a lyrical, Czech-flavored romance; the second, somewhat heavier in character with majestic dotted rhythms. The final return to the opening dance section shifts to the major mode, but ultimately the movement is left feeling unresolved.

For the rondo finale, Smetana borrows extensively from his own Piano Sonata in G minor (1846) which he wrote as a student. While quite likely influenced by the last movement of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat major, Smetana’s is the weightier-textured piece though Schubert’s is more incisive in its intensity and compositional mastery. No question of this final movement’s resolution, however, with its sudden three-bar fortissimo ending.


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After intermission, violist Julianne lee joined Rex and the Coucherons to perform Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 87. Intriguingly   and indicative of the occasional overlap of personnel that can happen among chamber groups in Atlanta   these same four musicians performed the same work in early April at Kellett Chapel in Atlanta as the Georgian Chamber Players. No matter: Different names for different pragmatic purposes, but the high quality of music making remains the same.

Completed in 1889, shortly before he began work on his “Dumky” Trio, Op. 90, Dvořák’s Second Piano Quartet is a more pan-European essay than the more famous “Dumky” and quite Brahmsian in its expansive outer movements. The second is among the loveliest of Dvořák’s slow movements, remarkable in exposing five theme then repeating the entire with variations. The third movement proved the most folk-like in its contrasting pair of dances.

The Christiania Piano Quartet gave both works boldly robust performances, which worked satisfactorily even in the intimate meeting space at Burge Plantation. The combination of venue and musical approach lent a strong feeling of immediacy to the ensemble’s sound, which served well the emotionally potent Czech repertoire. ■


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