Guarneri String Quartet
Cabell Hall Auditorium
Friday, January 23
MUSIC The renowned Guarneri string Quartet (Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley, violins; Michael Tree, viola and Peter Wiley, cello) presented a solid program of rarely heard quartets by Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga and Zoltan Kodaly and an early sextet by Johannes Brahms. In the latter two members of the UVA music faculty, cellist Amy Leung and violist Hasse Borup, joined them.
Arriaga (1806-1826) was a precocious Spanish violinist and composer who was admitted to the Paris Conservatory at age 15, and by 17 was teaching there. In 1824 he published three string quartets, and went on to compose a symphony and other works before his tragically early death 10 days before his 20th birthday. His Quartet No. 2 in A Major proved to be a charming, skillful example of the classical style inculcated at the Conservatory. Only the third movement Menuetto, more a vigorous scherzo than a classical minuet, suggests that he was a contemporary of Beethoven. One can speculate on what he might have accomplished if he had lived a decade or two longer. His quartet received a polished performance.
Kodalys Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1918) provided a great contrast to the Arriaga work. Kodaly (1882-1967), a major Hungarian composer, was a friend and colleague of Bela Bartok. Often working together, both composers studied and analyzed the folk music of their native country and incorporated their findings in challenging modernist compositions. Bartoks style is more individual and has had a great influence on the international avant-garde, while Kodalys is more traditional and accessible. Kodaly is well-known today for his work in music education as well as his colorful later orchestral and choral works, but less so for his earlier and more difficult ones such as the Quartet No. 2, which is often severely contrapuntal and dissonant. It is also lyrical and touched with Hungarian folk melodies and dance rhythms, which dominate the concluding section of the second of its two movements. The performance persuasively conveyed the unusual qualities of the work.
Brahms (1833-97) composed his String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat (Op. 18) in 1858/60. It was his first all string chamber work and, rich in texture, it wraps the listener in a warm cocoon of sound emphasizing the two violas and cellos. The first movement, a sonata form, and the last, a rondo, begin with themes played by violas and cellos, and those instruments are assigned much of the thematic work throughout. The middle movements stress other forms and textures. The second, a strict theme and variations, begin in a chordal style suggesting a passacaglia and foreshadows the final movement of his Fourth Symphony. The third movement, a scherzo, combines two breezy folk dances and is perhaps the lightest movement in all his larger works. The Guarneri Quartet and their colleagues gave a deeply felt reading of this piece, and indeed of all the works on the program. Martin Picker