Parker Quartet Concert Report
Review of the concert by Joan Champie
On Sunday, March 12, the Parker Quartet returned to Yellow Springs, presenting a varied and interesting program for the CMYS concert series.
Founded in 2002, the Quartet is renowned for its dynamic interpretations and polished, expressive colors. They are in demand worldwide and have appeared in the most important venues. During the summer of 2016 they played at festivals across North America, and in January 2017 they toured Europe. The Parker Quartet strongly supports new compositions and has premiered many works at Harvard University, Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, and Lincoln Center in New York. They have recorded for Zig-Zag Territoires, Inova Records, and Naxos, including the world premiere recording of American composer Jeremy Gills’ Capriccio, written for the Quartet.
The program opened with Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1, Op. 12, which began with a reflective and quiet melody for violin, soon interweaving with the other voices. Restrained and sensitive playing created an atmosphere of delicacy and charm, the essence of early 19th century music. The Canzonetta had moments reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and its exuberant playfulness. The Quartet maintained a superb balance among the instruments, performing with shared interpretation and grace. Sonorous tones began the Andante movement followed by assertive, vibrant energy in all the musicians. The first violin had passages showing brilliant technique and rich tonal quality that musically interpreted the phrases. The piece ended with a slow diminuendo into the gentle close.
In a total change of affect, the HELIX SPIRAL for string quartet by Augusta Read Thomas celebrates a DNA replication experiment. The Parker performed the first and third movements of the piece. The first movement, LOCI, portrays the location of a gene, a DNA sequence, or a position on a chromosome. Novel effects were produced by the use of pizzicato (plucked strings) and also using the wooden, reverse side of the bows. Lengthy passages of pizzicato for separate instruments or for ensemble work created a delightful and unique impression of precise, fleeting entities. The kaleidoscopic range of combinations produced a capricious and effervescent image of the LOCI. SPIRAL, the third movement, was lyrical and innovative with harmonies and melodies portraying the life force and the DNA molecule’s potential for the development of all living things. Beautifully played by the Quartet, this composition merits a large public awareness of its concepts.
Continuing the exciting variance of the night’s program, Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73 provided a third insight into the string quartet repertoire. As with most Shostakovich compositions, this work balances introspective, sombre sections with tongue-in-cheek, comic contrasts. At times the themes interlock and a definite impression of progression or development carries the listener. His music is never static but moves in unexpected, almost startling ways. The Allegretto movement was technically challenging and masterly performed. The Moderato showed especially brilliant violin playing, and all the instruments played with precision and great warmth. Extremely soft passages provided contrasts to the forceful energy. The Allegro began with harsh, dissonant chords played by all four and then the solo violin soared above this with a yearning melody. Repeated series of these abrasive chords contrasted with the lone melody, and the movement ended abruptly with a surprising finality. The fourth movement Adagio opened with two contrasting statements, a low funereal unison and a high, delicate grieving melody. The opening theme continues with a long melodic line eventually fading away. The final movement began with a lyrical theme beautifully played by the cello, a contrast to the force and anguish of the previous movements. Other themes emerged and then the music slowed to a dying ember as the violin quietly played eerie harmonics. Shostakovich masterfully combines unpredictable intervals, contrasting moods, unusual chords and creative rhythms to produce refreshing, memorable music worthy of many repeated listenings.
The Parker Quartet presented a satisfying program with the variety of selections, each one played with devotion to the composer’s intent. Particularly notable was the refined ensemble playing and excellent balance of the group throughout the evening.
Charles Larkowski gave the pre-concert lecture with examples of melody and rhythm demonstrated on a keyboard.