Review: Emerson String Quartet at Comstock Hall

Emerson String Quartet credit Lisa Mazzucco

(Photo credit: Lisa Mazzucco)

The celebrated Emerson String Quartet returned to Louisville on Sunday for their second performance in as many years, this time as part of the Chamber Music Society of Louisville’s concert series at Comstock Hall (their last performance was with the Louisville Orchestra).

The first two movements of Mozart’s Quartet in G major, K. 387, provided a lukewarm first impression, with intonation issues between the violins playing unison or an octave apart. The off-beat accents in the Menuetto were a bit forced and too punctuated. Mozart’s operatic third movement gave Philip Setzer a chance to shape sublime phrases with elegance. A vigorous final movement gave the composer the last laugh with a fake ending causing fairly hefty applause too early, requiring Mr. Setzer to tell the audience that the music was not over, after which the final few bars were played. You could almost hear Tom Hulce’s Amadeus cackling.

Central to the program in structure and length was the challenging and engrossing Lyric Suite by Alban Berg. As one of the second-Viennese composers mentored by Arnold Schoenberg, Berg’s use of the often clinical twelve-tone system is generally more melodic and approachable. Here in this dense and mystical score, Emerson was most comfortable with each player afforded textures rich and sparse, sparkling and gritty.

Beethoven’s Quartet in E-flat, Op. 74, from 1809 sits squarely among some of his most lauded works, including the third and fifth symphonies, the violin concerto, Fidelio and the “Waldstein” piano sonata. But unlike these emotionally weighty companions, the “Harp” quartet is, generally, lighter. Emerson’s delivery was passionate, if a little heavy. Violinist Eugene Drucker’s dexterity through a flurry of notes during the coda of the first movement was brilliant. Violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins found moments to make their sound bloom in the final set of variations.

For an encore, Emerson played a Fantasia by Henry Purcell originally for a viol consort. Their playing wasn’t imitative of viols, but just sensitive enough for clarity. In some ways the Purcell sounded more like the Beethoven than the Beethoven.

If the concert seemed plodding, it wasn’t from the musicians performance, but the long pauses between every movement. Most seemed necessary for tuning – the hall was warm and stuffy, which could have been the culprit – but there was little connective tissue between movements. Unfortunately, these breaks added up making for a first half that had little momentum and energy.

The final concert of the Chamber Music Society of Louisville is Thursday at 7:30pm featuring Brooklyn Rider at the Clifton Center.

Featured Album: Cypress String Quartet’s Beethoven: The Middle String Quartets

Cypress

Cypress String Quartet

Cypress String Quartet from San Francisco, California has released their newest album, Beethoven: The Middle String Quartets, which features five quartets from Opp. 59, 74, and 95. Beethoven began writing these in 1806, just after he finished premiering his Eroica Symphony. These works are challenging and hard to understand. During this time period music for string quartet was a genre that was enjoyed privately among die hard music lovers, so these quartets are almost experimental in a sense. Cypress takes on these string quartets with ease, performing them beautifully.

Cypress recently stopped by our performance studio at Classical 90.5 to talk with Daniel Gilliam about their journey to record and perform all of the Beethoven String Quartets. They also treated us to a special performance of Erwin Schulhoff’s Cavatine from Divertimento for String Quartet. Members Jennifer Kloetzel and Tom Stone discussed their recordings of Beethoven’s middle and late string quartets, and their plans to record his early quartets this June. They also described their Call and Response program, which pairs a newly commissioned work from a living composer with a standard masterpiece. This program reaches out to students all over the San Francisco Bay Area, creating new classical music lovers of all ages. Members of Cypress include Cecily Ward and Tom Stone on violin, Ethan Filner on viola, and Jennifer Kloetzel on cello.

You can purchase Cypress String Quartet’s newest album Beethoven: The Middle String Quartets on iTunes, and you can also purchase their first release of the quartets, Beethoven: The Late String Quartets on iTunes. Stay tuned for their release of Beethoven’s early string quartets.

Here is a video of Cypress String Quartet performing the second movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in Bb Major, Opus 130: II. Presto.

Lunchtime Classics: Kentucky Opera Presents Fidelio

Fidelio set

Kentucky Opera opens their 2014-2015 season with Beethoven’s Fidelio, and you can get an up-close preview on Lunchtime Classics, September 3rd at noon. Call (502) 814-6565 to reserve a lunch from City Cafe and a front row seat. Space will fill up quickly!

Until then, check out this cover for an LP set of Fidelio conducted by Zubin Mehta
beethoven fidelio cool font

Kentucky Opera

FIDELIO-synopsis-photo

Our Lunchtime Classics series returns in September. Until then, we’re featuring some artists who have performed on past episodes.

Kentucky Opera was founded in 1952 by Moritz von Bomhard. Its first productions were presented in the Columbia Auditorium until 1964 when they moved to the Brown Theatre. The company later moved some performances to Whitney Hall in the Kentucky Center for the Arts in 1984 and moved all productions there in 2000. Kentucky Opera currently presents most of its performances in the Brown Theatre.

Under Bomhard’s direction, Kentucky Opera grew to become a respected regional company. The Bomhard Theater at the Kentucky Center for the Arts is named in his honor. After 30 years of tenure, Bomhard retired in 1982.

Thomson Smillie became the company’s next General Director. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Smillie had worked for the Scottish National Opera for twelve years in addition to being the Artistic Director of the Wexford Festival of Ireland. In the United States, Smillie led the Opera Company of Boston before coming to Louisville. Smillie served 16 seasons with Kentucky Opera before leaving in 1997.

In 1998, Deborah Sandler became the third General Director of Kentucky Opera. She came to Louisville from the Opera Festival of New Jersey where she had been on staff as Executive Director since 1985 and later as General Director. During her tenure at the Opera Festival of New Jersey, the company grew under her tenure to be a major national force in American Opera.

In January 2006, David Roth was announced as the new general director of Kentucky Opera, succeeding Ms. Sandler. Roth had been with Fort Worth Opera since 2000 where he balanced the artistic and fiscal responsibilities as both Director of Production and Director of Finance.

Kentucky Opera begins its 2014-2015 season with Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven in mid-September.

Kentucky Center Stage: Louisville Orchestra Finale

Teaser_Faksimile_Beeth_03

Don’t miss the last Louisville Orchestra broadcast of the season with Jorge Mester conducting Beethoven’s first and last symphonies, recorded in Whitney Hall with soloists Katie van Kooten, Rebekah Bortz Hardin, Daniel Weeks, Kenneth Shaw and the chorus which included singers from University of Louisville Cardinal Singers and Collegiate Chorale, Voces Novae and Louisville Chamber Choir.

And listen to this interesting segment from Radiolab on Beethoven and the metronome.