Centuries of Music Done Smartly
The Philomusica Quartet deftly handles music from four different eras.
Members of the Philomusica Quartet are active in the local concert scene. Violinist Jeanyi Kim holds 3rd chair in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and is concertmaster of the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra. Violinist Sascha Mandl serves as concertmaster of the Racine and Kenosha symphonies. Violist Nathan Hackett and cellist Adrien Zitoun also play for the Milwaukee Symphony and Zitoun is often featured with Present Music. Each contributes to music education. Together they have left a mark as an ensemble that faithfully reflects the styles of the diverse selections they play.
Monday evening’s concert at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music included works spanning four centuries. But Mandl identified elements the works have in common. Each of the composers – Purcell, Beethoven, Schumann and Carter – are pianists. Their approach to writing for string quartet is to create layers of sound supporting communication among the players through imitative counterpoint or call and response.
Henry Purcell’s Pavane and Chacony in G minor, arranged for string quartet, was rich with harmonies and conversation among the players. A gentle prelude preceded a weaving of voices in an intricate array. Zitoun’s cello filled the hall in a pleasant repeated pattern in the Chacony (chaconne) section as the others filled the air above it with complex counterpoint.
Remarkably, a short work by Elliot Carter (who died at 104 in 2012) seemed very similar to the Purcell. Carter’s Elegy for String Quartet (1946) featured deliberative legato chords that touched on discord, but gently. The somber mood called for a simpler form than most of Carter’s works. The quartet drew out the lovely material in a way that reflected the harmonies of Purcell’s Pavane.
Robert Schumann’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op 41, No 1 ended the evening with a more imposing work. Serious development mixed sharp motivic outbursts with melodic phrases. Kim led an energetic scherzo calling for rapid responses from the others. The dense sections of the scherzo recalled Mendelssohn. The drama was capped by a momentous finale. A bagpipe drone in the cello introduced in a quiet section which began as a somber choral then built a platform under a dramatic finish.
The Philomusica Quartet will end their season on May 5 with a program featuring a guest guitarist. Rene Izquierdo, a professor of classical guitar with the UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts, enjoys an international reach as a performer. The group will play Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major, “Fandango.” Izquierdo will also offer a solo work. The acoustic guitar fit well within 18th century chamber music, but string instruments have since developed a louder dynamic, while the acoustic guitar has retained a more restrained sound.
The May concert will also feature an Amy Beach, Quartet for Strings, Op 89 and continue a cycle of Beethoven quartets with his final one, String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135.
If you’ve never heard the Philomusica Quartet play, I highly recommend it. They are a wonderful complement to the city’s classical music scene, with strong playing and interesting programs.