May 8, 2022
First Presbyterian Church – Atlanta
Christopher Pulgram, Sissi Yuqing Zhang, Robert Anemone & Kevin Chen, violins; Zhenwei Shi &Yinzi Kong, violas; Thomas Carpenter& Brad Ritchie, cellos.
HALVORSEN: Passacaglia for Violin and Cello, after Handel
BEETHOVEN: String Trio in D major, Op. 9 No. 2
MENDELSSOHN: Octet in E♭ major, Op. 20
Mark Gresham | 8 APR 2022
A prominent figure in Norwegian musical life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Norwegian violinist, conductor, and composer Johan Halvorsen (1864 – 1935) is primarily remembered today, at least in the United States, for this Passacaglia for Violin and Viola, freely adapted from Handel (published in 1894). Alternatively called Duo for Violin and Viola, it is an extrapolation of the “Passacaglia” that closes the Harpsichord Suite in G minor (HWV 432) by German Baroque composer George Frideric Handel.
Halvorsen’s publisher in Copenhagen, Wilhelm Hansen, wisely engaged the editor Michael Press to create a transcription for violin and cello. Violinist Sissi Yuqing Zhang and cellist Thomas Carpenter performed that version splendidly to open Sunday’s concert by the Peachtree String Quartet.
The piece is an attractive tour de force for two stringed instruments, whether the violin is partnered with viola or cello. The version with viola has perhaps a little more brilliance, but the cello adds a considerable depth to the sonic spectrum that I happen to prefer.
Violist Zhenwei Shi then joined Zhang and Carpenter to perform Beethoven’s String Trio in D major, Op. 9 No. 2.
The three String Trios that comprise Op. 9 were composed in 1797–98, and published the following year. At the time, the 28-year-old Beethoven considered them his best compositions.
Here, as with the Halversen, the clarity of expression in the music benefited mightily from the acoustics afforded by the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church, in contrast to PSQ’s long-time home venue, the Garden Hills Recreation Center. While intimate, the Recreation Center does not have such supportive acoustics for this high level of music-making. It also perhaps no longer can accommodate the Quartet’s growing audience.
As the final public concert of the Peachtree String Quartet’s 10th Anniversary season, it was perhaps unusual that there was not a single piece for string quartet in it. In addition to the duo and trio above, the final work on the program was Felix Mendelssohn’s String Octet in E♭ major, Op. 20.
Here was the first onstage appearance of the late afternoon by PSQ’s founding artistic director and violinist, Christopher Pulgram. Pulgram and the three musicians in the first half of the program were joined for the Octet by four additional musical friends: violinists Robert Anemone and Kevin Chen, violist Yinzi Kong, and cellist Brad Ritchie.
The full-bodied Octet was the apex of the program, which had a consistently high quality of musicianship throughout, but the Mendelssohn, if only by weight of sheer numbers, gave it an extra richness and intensity ideal for capping off the Quartet’s 10th Anniversary celebrations in style. ■
- Peachtree String Quartet: peachtreestringquartet.org
Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.