Among friends: violinists Sissi Yuqing Zhang and Christopher Pulgram, violist Yang-Yoon Kim and cellist Thomas Carpenter. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Review: Peachtree String Quartet performs private “carport concert” as pandemic restrictions relax

PEACHTREE STRING QUARTET
May 22, 2021
Live “carport concert” at a private home, by invitation only
Christopher Pulgram & Sissi Yuqing Zhang, violins; Yang-Yoon Kim, viola; Thomas Carpenter, cello

MARK GRESHAM | 24 MAY 2021

Recent relaxation of pandemic restrictions have now made it possible for live concerts with in-person audiences to begin to re-emerge in Atlanta. One of those was a private “carport concert” by the Peachtree String Quartet that took place Saturday evening at the home of Christopher Pulgram, the group’s artistic director and one of its two violinists.

Like the previous Sunday’s public concert by the Atlanta Chamber Players, which drew over a hundred listeners, the audience was limited for the Peachtree String Quartet’s event. The big difference is that the latter was “by invitation only” since it was presented at a private home. The Quartet performed from Pulgram’s open-air carport to about 75 attendees seated both on the paved areas surrounding the musicians and the adjacent grassy lawn. The high peaked roof above and the solid concrete below helped somewhat to deliver the Quartet’s unamplified sound, which projected reasonable well. From where I was sitting, musical detail was surprisingly well perceived given the context, though obviously not anything like that afforded by an excellent indoor venue.


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This was particularly true with Mozart’s String Quartet No. 4 in C major, K. 157, which opened the 50-minute program. There is something about the “classical” style which works well enough in this situation, because the music is already so very “exposed” by its nature. PSQ performed all three movements (“Allegro,” “Andante,” “Presto”), making it the only multimovement work to be played in its entirety that evening.

The varied program was populated as much by arrangements for string quartet as by works originally written for it, and PSQ chose them well, even if we will never really care about the name of the arranger in most cases. The first of these was an arrangement of a well-loved melody, “The Swan” from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. There are a plethora of string quartet arrangements of “The Swan” in publication, this particular one by an “E. Fine” – that’s as much as we know – which works favorably.

Turning back to an original string quartet, OSQ then played the “Scherzo” second movement of the String Quartet in F major by Maurice Ravel, notable for its extensive use of pizzicato and shifting metrical accents, to a degree that was ground-breaking for its time and still fresh and exciting today.


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The next three numbers were a return to arrangements, with a pair drawn from solo piano pieces by Debussy: “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” (“La fille aux cheveux de lin,” No. 8 from the composer’s first book of Préludes) and “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” (No. 6 from Children’s Corner).

We then heard the popular song “Autumn Leaves” by Joseph Kosma in an intriguing string quartet arrangement by Toru Takemitsu, the leading Japanese composer of 20th-century, noted for his subtle handling of instrumental timbre. That reputation shone clearly in his use of harmony, voicing and color in this moving, at times breathtaking version of “Autumn Leaves.”


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Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 44 No. 1 has a special place in the repertoire of the Peachtree String Quartet. It was the closing work for the group’s inaugural concert in April 2012. Appropriately, the first movement (“Molto allegro vivace”) was the closer for Saturday’s concert, ending the evening with an energized, optimistic finish.

Given that the 2021-22 season will mark the Peachtree String Quartet’s 10th anniversary. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the entire piece programmed in one of those concerts to honor the occasion.   ■


Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer for EarRelevant. He has been a music journalist for over 30 years, and a composer of music for much longer than that.

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