Halcyon pleases in the eighth season
At summer festivals, you can witness the birth and death of a string quartet in the space of a single evening. Ad hoc quartets have no right to be as demanding and polished as the one we heard last night at the Halcyon Music Festival concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth NH. Violinist Maria Ioudenitch, a New England Conservatory Artist Diploma graduate and winner of the Harvard Musical Association’s 2022 Arthur W. Foote Prize, took the first chair. She can boast of an extraordinarily attractive tone with deeply expressive qualities, infallible chops and self-confidence to lead. Boston favourite, violinist Gabriela Diaz; traveling violist David Harding, cellist of the Daedalus Quartet Thomas Kraines joined her for a reference account of Debussy’s only quartet, a radically successful and always renewed departure from classical forms and harmony.
Lively and very determined or as one might say animated and adamantine, the first movement immediately reveals a graceful, lived-in whole with all the subtleties, refinements and agreed nuances of balance, accent, form and color that one would expect from a a full-time musician. together. The group could encompass exquisite tenderness, gregarious extroversion, as well as heated and annealed emphatic firmness. Moreover, their interpretation could surprise us with its originality of expression and inflection. They made it all manifest in about six minutes!
Bright-Eyed Pizzas Quite lively and well paced leads to generously infected tunes met with the sun of Gallic flair. Ioundenich’s lackluster brilliance inspired heaps of sonic smiles from his partners, including his alter-ego, the always welcome Diaz. The movement ended with an extreme ppppp that only a superbly quiet space can allow, invoking a majestic small boat on a cosmic Sea.
Cellist Kraines and violist Harding exchanged the opening piece with intensity as they opened the Andantino, gently expressive; it stretched to the deepest pathos as the four voices shared and amplified it into a remarkable narrative.
Very moderate – By animating little by little – Very hectic and with passion marks the instructions for the closing movement. Wonderfully gooey parallel harmonies swirled as the canonical gestures soared to the theater fff hustle. Layers stacked like a confectioner’s towering centerpiece. But strong and impressive bones supported this most impressive and palate-pleasing dough.
The nominal sine quartet should consider incorporating.
The evening opened with a recitation of Mozart’s Viola Quintet in G minor K. 516 from another ad hoc ensemble specially put together by the residents of Halcyon’s two-week summer camp. The four strong musicians, violinists Ben Sayevich and Laurel Gagnon, violists Katherine Murdoch and Marcus Thompson, and cellist Peter Stumpf, matched well temperamentally. In the Allegro’s first theme, violinist Sayevich pleaded for an ever-shifting urgency. The repeated eighth notes that underpin it never felt relentless and, of course, everyone gets the melody at some point. In the Menuetto question and answer: Allegretto’s intense accents made their case well. Sublime muted Adagio explored many levels of urgency p-ppp with a very innig restraint and reliable beauty of tone. The fourth movement begins adagio before swinging surprisingly into an allegro and a rondo. The ensemble handled these contrasts without flinching, concluding bright, fast and correct, with lucid trills and big fp accents. Never rising to the drama of Debussy, perhaps because Mozart never indicated fortissimos, the performance nevertheless registered as an ensemble work thought out by experienced professionals.
The brilliant Gabriella Diaz presented the central work of Charles Ives’ only piano trio, which we can summarize here by quoting BMIntDescription of Vance Koven:
The only piano trio by Charles Ives (1904-1911), despite its breathtaking complexity and often sharp tones, has become a staple of the repertoire, at least for the last two generations of performers. It also has a special place in Ives’ output, dating to the first decade of the 20th century, when Ives was working on his Third Symphony. It is, as J. Peter Burkholder explained in his masterful treatise on Ives’s compositional techniques, All made of melodies, structurally and substantially different from almost anything he wrote. On the one hand, with the exception of the raucous scherzo quodlibet, famously titled “TSIAJ” for “this scherzo is a joke”, and the final quote from the anthem “Rock of Ages” (“Toplady” is the name of the aria, by Thomas Hastings), the themes are all Ives originals. On the other hand, the first movement employs a structure that I never used again. It’s actually a very clever approach: a melody begins in the cello and in the high register of the piano (sometimes played with one hand, but Papadakis used both), which progresses from atonal complexity to tonal simplicity. Then the low register of the violin and the piano travel the same territory with different notes, then all the parts play the same notes together, revealing the “complete” musical material, ending on a major chord. As Ives put it in a note to accompany the work’s public premiere in 1948, the movement depicts a lecture by a Yale philosophy professor (the entire work is reminiscent of college days d’Ives, at the time of writing, less than a decade ago), with listeners gradually moving from bewilderment to understanding.
As noted, the scherzo is a gallimaufry of tunes, one of Ives’ few actual quodlibets, mostly long-forgotten college songs, plus a handful of recognizable popular tunes from the 19th century (e.g. “My Old Foster’s Kentucky Home) all mixed together in different keys, kaleidoscopically distorted, rhythmically pushed and pulled, and ending, most incongruously of all, on a short VI cadence (no one called the echo of the Ives in the Iwanek, so we do it here).
The finale, a reflection on a campus church service ending with the quoted hymn, is heartfelt, in a simpler harmonic style (thus making the work reflect the processes of the first movement, or perhaps vice versa) and tinged of late Victorian feeling. The main theme is given to the cello. After a more jazzy mid-section, the coda hymn was a heartfelt hymn that feels welcome, but the emptying of Northeastern Protestant churches in the late 20th century has largely stripped the context of this music for contemporary audiences. , and even for musicians. Ives reportedly took the audience’s familiarity with these tunes for granted. Today, the public needs explanations for the integrated songs.
Beneath the modernist and somewhat menacing opening meanders of cellist David Hardy, artistic director Heng-Jin Park, spitting fire at the piano, let us know with certainty that we had left the safety of Mozart minnowing behind. By the time violinist Monica Pegis entered at bar 28, the rather abstract argument had gained in vehemence. Fragmented, prospective and disjointed, this Moderato movement fostered the independence of the three individuals; they seemed to inhabit private but parallel realms.
Ives assembled the presto with nostalgia for the living room and the church choir seen through a lens of teenage Yalie irony. It sounded like a radio tuned to multiple simultaneous stations that would mysteriously line up for commercials with the same jingle. Sometimes loud and energetic, always talkative and backhand catchers, the trio left no doubt about their commitment to performing in front of the crowd. The closing movement Moderato con moto begins as a parody or homage to Brahms…or both. Players reveled in the guessing game as the tunes made brief arcs, disappearing under cloud covers of crashes and competing ideas before reappearing like rays of sunshine as the sky broke. We sometimes wondered if we were developing a case of ADD…and yet, when it came time for Ives to say goodbye, Hardy’s eloquent cello sang “Rock of Ages” for the ages…before the song atomized into a (perhaps) deep or deeply unanswered question.
Lee Eiseman is the editor of the Spy