calidore string quartet

Chamber Music Northwest review: quartets and quintets

Strings sing in performances of European classics for string quartet and quintet


What a feast Chamber Music Northwest has brought us in its 2017 Summer Festival! In string quartets alone, the festival has featured since the July 6 concert the the Emersons, the Brentanos, and the Dovers. For other instrumental combinations you can add the Claremont Trio (violin, cello, and piano) and Imani Winds. And that doesn’t count the many other superb musicians whom Music Director David Shifrin has gathered to make chamber music, sometimes on a grand scale.

Rebecca Anderson and Andrea Lam performed Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson Photography.

The July 19 and July 22 concerts were a smorgasbord of strings, with the notable exception of a pianist from the Claremont Trio. The Kreutzer Connection July 19 concert in Alberta Rose Theatre presented three pieces connected closely or loosely with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata, Op. 47, No. 9, called the Kreutzer after its dedicatee Rodolphe Kreutzer, considered one of the best violinists of his time. Like so many of Beethoven’s compositions, this sonata changed the genre for all time. No previous piece for these two instruments had dealt out the music so equally, or made their collaboration so prominent. One of CMNW’s group of freelance musicians, violinist Rebecca Anderson, took on the challenging string part, and the Claremont Trio’s Andrea Lam tackled Beethoven’s piano score.


Chamber Music Northwest reviews: famous and unfamiliar fare

Emerson and Calidore Quartets excel in classics by male European composers, while Claremont Trio shines in works by three generations of female composers


Throughout his long and productive career, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) used the genre of the string quartet as an outlet for his emotions when his orchestral or operatic works had been criticized and suppressed by Stalin’s censors. Earlier this year, the Emerson String Quartet played Dmitri Shostakovich’s fourth quartet in an April 19 concert, and on July 8, still under the auspices of Chamber Music Northwest, they added the composer’s fourteenth quartet and on July 9, the eighth. What a treat to get to hear these wonderful players performing so much of the music of the 20th century’s greatest and most important composer of string quartets.

The Emersons — Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violins; Lawrence Dutton, viola; Paul Watkins, cello —began the July 8 concert with a tasty seven-minute appetizer by the English 17th-century composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695), one of his many chaconies small pieces originally written for what was called a consort of viols, generally a quartet of stringed instruments that were the immediate precursors of the modern violin, viola, cello, and double bass. In the Chacony in G Minor, Mr. Watkins took the part of the violone, the viol family’s version of the modern double bass. It was a plausible but hardly necessary introduction to the real business at hand: Shostakovich’s 14th Quartet followed by the same composer’s marvelous Prelude and Scherzo and then, in the concert’s second half, Mendelssohn’s miraculous Octet, written when the composer was only sixteen years old.

The Calidore Quartet joined the Emerson Quartet to play octets at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Shostakovich’s fourteenth and penultimate quartet (he also wrote fifteen symphonies) alternates between pensive and almost romantic passages. Shostakovich had begun the piece during a happy visit with the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), whom he admired, at Britten’s home in England. Dedicated to a cellist, the quartet showcases that instrument at the beginning before the second-movement Adagio, where the cellist is joined by the first violinist while the other two quartet members play pizzicato. In the final movement Allegretto, the players toss melodic fragments among themselves, a task difficult to do but very effective when done well, as the Emersons demonstrated. The quartet then ends with a quiet return to the first movement’s lovely Adagio.

To end the concert’s first half, the Emersons then brought onstage the Calidore String Quartet to join their mentors in Shostakovich’s not-well-known Prelude and Scherzo for String Octet, scored for double string quartet. The Emersons generously assigned their younger collaborators (violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, cellist Estelle Choi) the first-chair parts for this energetic composition by the young Shostakovich, written when he was just 18 years old. Especially in its super-vigorous Allegro molto, with all eight players sawing away like mad, it proved an effective piece on its own.


Chamber Music Northwest review: variable variations

Festival concerts feature a serious American sextet, romantic Russian music, and some sillier selections


After July 2’s gypsy light-heartedness amid an onstage world of tuxedos and concert gowns, Chamber Music Northwest’s 2017 Summer Festival went one better on July 4 in Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall, into the realm of outright, unashamed silliness: Bohuslav Martinu’s  Suite from La revue de cuisine, with its witty evocation of dancers impersonating kitchen utensils, and William Walton’s Façade, with Edith Sitwell’s whimsical nonsense verse.

R-L: David Shifrin, Julie Feves, Jeffrey Work, Gloria Chien, Dmitri Atapine and Arnaud Sussmann played Martinu and Bolcom at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

A third piece, a world premiere by William Bolcom (b. 1938), who was present with his wife, the singer and native Portlander Joan Morris, that found itself between Martinu’s and Walton’s shenanigans, had nothing to do with this. In its six movements, for the unusual consort of clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin, cello and piano, all playing in the multitonal, eclectic style that has ruled contemporary music in recent years, Sextet is SERIOUS. As the composer says, referring to a piece he had written previously, “When the CMNW commission came this last year I’d thought of writing a second Summer Divertimento but could not summon up the carefree tone of the 1973 piece. Things are more fraught now.”

Similarly, in his remarks before the piece began, Bolcom alluded to the present day as anything but carefree. Whether this was a reference to the current president and his influence is open to question, although some in the audience nodded knowingly. But clearly Bolcom meant Sextet to be in some way a “statement,” or at least a statement of his mood in these “fraught” days.


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