Monday, April 22, 2019

"Bohemian Rhapsody" - the Carmel Quartet discusses and performs quartets of Janáček and Dvořák

Rachel Ringelstein,Tali Goldberg,Tami Waterman,Yonah Zur (photo:Yoel Levy)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was the title of lecture-concert No.4 of the Carmel Quartet’s 2018-2019 Strings and More season. Founded in 1999, the Carmel Quartet is directed by violist Dr. Yoel Greenberg. This writer attended the event at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim on April 10th 2019. Taking part in the (English language) event were Rachel Ringelstein and Tali Goldberg-violins and Tami Waterman-’cello; also, guest violist Yonah Zur, who gave the audience much information on the evening’s two composers - Janáček and Dvořák – and the works performed.


Born to a peasant family, Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) was born in Hukvaldy in north-eastern Moravia and grew up within a folk-song tradition. His parents sent him to study in Brno, where he became a choirboy and studied organ. Later, in Prague, he became an organ student of Dvořák, and a lasting friendship was formed between the two. A restless, stubborn person, Janáček moved to Leipzig, to Vienna and back to Brno. He felt he did not belong to any one place; neither did he identify with the late Romantic musical language of Richard Strauss, Mahler and Bruckner. Janáček was fascinated by the sounds around him, such as bird calls and thunder, noting and notating them in a notebook he carried around with him; he also wrote down phrases he heard people saying, referring to them as “speech melodies”. In 1917, he met a young married woman - Kamila Stösslová - at the Moravian spa town of Luhačovice. His infatuation with her resulted in over 700 letters written to her (the women players read some excerpts from them) and the dedication of a character to her in each of his last operas. When he died, she, and not his wife, was at his side. Janáček’s Quartet No.2 “Intimate Letters”, played at the Jerusalem concert, was yet another of the works dedicated to Kamila Stösslová. Each of the movements represents a real or imagined stage in Janáček’s relationship with Stösslová. The Carmel Quartet’s vigorous and informed reading of the work addressed its lyricism and sentimentality, but also the many less conventional effects woven into the score, producing coarse or otherworldly sounds. Following the third movement, imitating dance forms and forming the work's emotional climax, the players emphasized the composer’s yearning written into the fourth. Their performance displayed the vocal origin of Janáček’s melodies, the nationalist vernacular, the naturalistic and the personal emotions behind the work.


Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904) was born in Nelahozeves near Prague. Yonah Zur spoke of him as “easily the most-travelled composer of his age”, adding that he adopted musical elements from wherever he had been. The studies in Prague he took with German teachers provided him with his “musical mother tongue”. In his 20s, Dvořák served as a theatre violist, the work familiarizing him with Italian and French opera; he was influenced by the Nationalist movement and by the music of Smetana and Wagner. He also looked eastwards to Slavic influences. Brought to the USA to “launch American music”, it was there that he heard such genres as music of Native Americans and Irish music. At the Jerusalem concert, the Carmel Quartet performed Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 in G major, Op.106. Written at the end of 1895 soon after the composer’s return home from America, his mood extraordinarily happy; an affirmation of life and nature, this quartet, revealing the composer’s total mastery of the medium, was (in Zur’s words) Dvořák’s “swan song” to his German musical background. With the Carmel players’ signature richness of timbre and exemplary care over internal balance, they gave credence to the work’s lyrical melodic freshness and folk idioms, addressing each gesture with meaning and shape. As to the Adagio movement, the centrepiece of the quartet and one of the composer’s finest string quartet movements, the artists integrated its eloquence with a measure of contemplative intensity. The exuberance of the Finale, its positive, assertive manner reminiscent of the opening movement, was interspersed with moments of wistfulness colouring the atmosphere prior to work’s affirmative, joyful conclusion.


No comments: