Mark Gresham | 08 OCT 2019
The Peachtree String Quartet opened its 2019-20 season on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Hills Recreation Center with a concert of music by Ludwig van Beethoven and Edvard Grieg. PSQ gave a musically appealing performance of the pair of mainstream but contrasting quartets.
Formed in 2012 by violinist and artistic director Christopher Pulgram, Peachtree String Quartet has been through several changes in personnel over the intervening years, and have made yet one more in advance of this season. Pulgram, violinist Sissi Yuqing Zhang and violist Yang-Yoon Kim are returning members of the quartet from last year, but with a new cellist, Thomas Carpenter. All four are members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Like last year’s, the new roster shows itself to have good musical chemistry among the players.
Sunday’s program opened with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18 No. 1. It was the composer’s very first string quartet, written sometime between 1798 and 1800, about the same time as one of Franz Joseph Haydn’s final quartets, the Quartet in G major, Op. 77 No. 1, which was played by the Escher Quartet just a week before at Spivey Hall. Hearing both concerts allowed one to see a passing of the torch of sorts from Haydn, who essentially established the solid place of string quartets in the chamber music repertoire, to the younger Beethoven who would revolutionize the form.
Peachtree String Quartet addresses that latter part of the story with the theme for their 2019-20 season: “Better Be Beethoven,” celebrating the semiquincentennial (or 250th anniversary) of the composer’s birth. That theme makes Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 1 quartet an excellent choice for their season opener, showing where he began with the genre. Their winter concert will include a quartet from Beethoven’s middle period, and in the spring will perform a quartet from his late period.
While this initial “early period” string quartet (the first of six that make up his Op. 18) reflects the “classical” character of Haydn and Mozart, it also exhibits Beethoven’s personal voice, in particular the inclusion of a Scherzo as the third movement, and hints at his innovations, It’s a bright and mostly cheerful Beethoven we hear, with that character brought out well by the PSQ musicians.
In considerable contrast was Grieg’s String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27, which is his sole extant, complete multi-movement work in the genre. There is an early Fugue in F minor (1861) for string quartet and two movements of a Quartet in F major that was left incomplete at his death, as well as an earlier Quartet in D minor that was entirely lost. So the Op. 27 stands, by consequence, as the preeminent example of Grieg’s string quartet music.
It proved a richly romantic work which, in its last two movements, owed much to folk dance in a non-trivial way. The Peachtree String Quartet gave it a full-bodied performance to conclude what was an enjoyable, aurally rewarding concert. ■