In a Late Romantic Mood

Philomusica Quartet plays late romantic works by Russian and French composers.

By - Feb 17th, 2016 05:58 pm
Philomusica String Quartet. Photo from Facebook.

Philomusica String Quartet. Photo from Facebook.

The Philomusica Quartet offers their second series concert next Monday evening at Wisconsin Lutheran College. They will feature three late 19th century works by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns and two Russian composers, Alexander Glazunov and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The Quartet – violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexander Mandl, violist Nathan Hackett and cellist Adrien Zitoun – will be joined by two guests from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra – violist Erin Pipal and cellist Peter Szczepanek.

Violist Erin Pipal

Violist Erin Pipal

Saint-Saëns wrote only two quartets. His last, String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 153 (1918) owes more to Ravel than to Brahms. As a late Romantic composition, form is less important than lyrical expression. Mandl finds the dynamic contour more like Haydn and Mozart than other more dramatic contemporaries. But the color is contemporary, containing “wonderful harmonies, chromaticism, switching of keys all over the place, constantly switching the meters of the piece.” All of this is challenging for the players and seamless to the listener, offering, Mandl suggests, “a myriad of reflections and recollections of moods and tonal textures.”

Glazunov wrote Novelettes, Op. 15 (1886) at aged 16, although he revised it sometime later. The Quartet will play three of the five pieces. The five pieces can be viewed independently as studies derived from far flung geographical styles. Orientale derives its exoticism from the Russian Caucasus with echoes of Alexander Borodin‘s Prince Igor suite. All’ungherese captures Magyar dance rhythms. Interludium in modo antico reflects the Byzantine flavor of music of the Russian Orthodox church. Even though the colors change, Mandl views the selections as affected by the “tonal prism of the emerging Russian sound.”

Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet “Souvenir de Florence” in D Minor, Op. 70 (1890) should be viewed primarily as a very Russian work. Tchaikovsky’s souvenir — an Italian melody featured in the slow second movement — provides the title. The melody floats above the hint of guitar accompaniment in the pizzicato strings. Slavic songs and folk dances are sources for the rest.

Cellist Peter Szczepanek

Cellist Peter Szczepanek

A joyful theme in the final movement is based upon a popular Russian folk song “In the meadow stood a little birch tree.” The lyrics are meaningful to the music: “Silver leaves all dance when the wind blows. … Nobody shall break down the birch tree … (But) I will go into the forest and fell a white birch tree … and make three little pipes … and make a balalaika to make my old grandfather pleasure.”

As with many Tchaikovsky orchestral settings, Souvenir is full of wonderful melodies. The chamber setting, Mandl points out, “allows the listeners to see the virtuosity of all of the players in a rich, intimate setting.”

I value — and recommend — the ability of the Philomusica Quartet to capture the moment, the intent of each composer, when playing their works. This concert offers an opportunity for the quartet to communicate impressions, flavors and moods that are not written on the page, but are a part of the intent of these late Romantic composers.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. next Monday at Wisconsin Lutheran College’s Schwann Concert Hall – located at 8815 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee. General admission tickets ($25) may be purchased at the door or in advance through the Wisconsin Lutheran College box office web site or at 414-443-8802. Student tickets are available for $12.

The Philomusica Quartet will perform next on Sunday, March 13 at 4:00 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 1511 Church Street Wauwatosa, WI 53213. They will play quartets by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. More information may be found online.

The next concert in the Philomusica Quartet Wisconsin Lutheran College series will be April 25, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.. The Quartet will play selections by Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart. Guest violist Matthew Michelic will join the Quartet for a Mozart viola quintet.

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