Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Carmel String Quartet presents its views on Bartok's String Quartet No.5 and Beethoven's String Quartet in F-major op.135

Yoel Greenberg,Rachel Ringelstein,Tami Waterman,Tali Goldberg(Shuli Waterman)

“Noble Savages” was the somewhat enigmatic title given to the Carmel Quartet’s recent concert of the Strings and More series. This writer attended the concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem, on March 12th 2018, in which explanations and readings were given in English. Directed by violist Yoel Greenberg, the series adds lively discussion as to the music played, with all members of the quartet taking part in that aspect of the event. Artists taking part were violinists Rachel Ringelstein (1st violin) and Tali Goldberg, Yoel Greenberg-viola and Tami Waterman-’cello.


In his humorous and lively manner, Dr Yoel Greenberg opened the evening with a quiz. Audience members were asked to identify from what period various snippets of music came. This turned out to be no easy task! All the examples were taken from Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No.5 and Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in F-major op.135. The first half of the evening would focus on the 1934 Bartok quartet. Greenberg spoke of Bartok’s Hungarian identity, his research into folk music (not just of his native Hungary) and his search to find natural sound, free of “Romantic grandiloquence”. Bartok’s fifth quartet brims with folk influence, one outstanding example being the asymmetrical Bulgarian dance of the third movement. Greenberg spoke of the work’s symmetrical arc structure and of two other visual/sound associations with which Bartok was fascinated - that of insects and of the sounds of night. The combination of the above-mentioned elements is what caused Bartok’s music to have both objective and subjective aspects. The Carmel Quartet’s performance of the highly virtuosic work was incisive and uncompromising, yet addressing its moments of empathy, the mystery of the world of insects and the composer’s strangely humorous removal of a folk song from its own tonality (2nd movement), the compound rhythm of the Bulgarian peasant dance (3rd movement) followed by the delicate, desolate otherworldly 4th movement, to return to the driven, acerbic, intensive effect on reaching the 5th movement. The artists presented the composer’s world of strange effects - of hisses, sighs, drones and pulses – existing together with classical forms on one musically rich and complex canvas, both shimmering and acerbic, yet always articulate, profound and sincere.


In reverse chronological order, Beethoven’s String Quartet in F-major op.135 occupied the second part of the program. Beethoven’s last complete work, composed in October 1826, written only a few months before his death in March 1827, this quartet differs from the monumental, soul-searching and sprawling late quartets (and piano sonatas). Beethoven’s personal life had descended into swirling chaos; he himself wrote much about his own suffering. This work, however, with its airy, transparent texture, its smaller proportions and playful nature, seems enigmatically removed from the struggle and suffering expressed in the above-mentioned late works. But it does ask questions, namely in the final movement bearing Beethoven’s strange inscription “Der schwer gefasste  Entschluss” (The Difficult Resolution) and on whose manuscript he asks “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?), later to answer in the affirmative. Greenberg spoke of Beethoven’s humour, his liking for puns, the work’s multiplicity of unconnected themes and the fact that, for the composer, there was little distance between comedy and seriousness. In the first movement, one as spare in texture as any quartet movement Beethoven had ever written, the Carmel players, in fine communication with each other, focused on objective playing and beautiful melodic shaping. They displayed the Vivace (2nd) movement’s humour in its “uncoordinated”, bumptious utterances and eruptive fortissimo section, to be followed by the profound, soul-searching character of the third movement, referred to by Greenberg as “one of Beethoven’s most moving”, as the instruments’ lower registers presented its theme. Then to the final movement, with Beethoven’s questions, its teasing playfulness alternating with anguished sounds. Yoel Greenberg suggested that Beethoven’s dilemma was to do with the complications of writing a string quartet. In a letter to his publisher, Beethoven wrote: “Here, my dear friend, is my last quartet. It will be the last; and indeed, it has given me much trouble. For I could not bring myself to compose the last movement. But as your letters were reminding me of it, in the end I decided to compose it. And that is the reason why I have written the motto: “The difficult resolution–Must it be? It must be, it must be!” A black sheep among Beethoven’s late repertoire, this was certainly a very curious and interesting work to discuss and present at the Carmel Quartet’s Strings and More series. As to its moods and gestures, Yoel Greenberg summed up his own thoughts with “we can never be sure which Beethoven we are looking at”.


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