This programme repeats noon, Friday, 13 December 2013, at Whitemud Crossing Library, Edmonton.
This superb concert was played before a disappointingly small audience — all the more frustratingly small as the Quartet has a well earned and well established reputation for excellent musicianship; as the concert was played at the University of Alberta, at its Myer Horowitz Theatre; and as the musical literature presented is consequential to an understanding of both social and artistic history.
I have been acquainted with the Mendelssohn Op. 13 Quartet since I was very young. A vinyl LP of it arrived some time around 1960 at the house in Ottawa courtesy of the Columbia Record Club. The recording was by the New Music String Quartet, comprised of Broadus Erle, Matthew Raimondi, Walter Trampler, and Claus Adam. I have never parted with it because I have never heard a recording to equal it.
But there is no substitute for live performance. For example, no recording will ever satisfactorily reproduce the pizzicati chords played by the inner voices at the beginning of the Intermezzo. And there is no recording that can bring out thrillingly and exultantly the force of the interrogation that builds throughout the opening movement to the fierce, annunciatory argument of the final bars. The question put once more by the first violin stops in the penultimate bar, and the response, not the answer, is in the sharp, defensive chords from the three other instruments.
And today’s reading by the Enterprise Quartet was compelling. I wanted to plead encore already at the end of the first movement.
Mendelssohn wrote his Op. 13 Quartet in a minor in 1827, the year Beethoven died, its compositional style much influenced by Beethoven, not only in terms of its musical statement but also in terms of its treatment of voices. Schubert understood the late quartets, and on his deathbed asked to hear the Op. 131, after hearing which, Schubert remarked “After this, what is left to write?” However, many of Beethoven’s contemporaries did not respond to this music. Louis Spohr termed the late quartets “indecipherable, uncorrected horrors.”
Beethoven’s last four quartets and the Große Fuge were not published till after his death: Opp. 133 and 130 by Artaria, Opp. 132 and 135 by Schlesinger, and Op. 131 by Schott; and Dr. Guillaume Tardif, the first violinist of the Enterprise Quartet, noted today that Mendelssohn would certainly have had access to the manuscripts held by Schlesinger; who, two years later, was the first the publish Bach’s Matthäus-Passion, after Mendelssohn had brought it to prominence in a performance from manuscript sources.
As in Beethoven’s Op. 135, the use of a philosophical motif interfuses the music, in Mendelssohn’s work in all of the four movements. In Beethoven, the question is Must it be? Mendelssohn poses the question Is it true? It follows much closer in the line of exploration of such philosophy than even the quartets by Brahms.
I continue to associate the Schumann quartets with Rudolf Nureyev. I saw him dance Four Schumann Pieces during the 70s. The ballet uses the music from the third quartet of Op. 41, but today the Enterprise Quartet played the second, in F, composed in 1842. It is laden with the difficulties Schumann places before his auditors and his players. The second movement, for example, is quasi variazioni, not on a theme but perhaps, as some commentators write, on the harmonic basis; but its often unrelenting syncopation, delay of the downbeat, and sections of double-stopping make it intrinsically interesting if demanding upon its presentation.
Schumann suffered, and died by his own hand, from mental disorder. Apparently his spirit elected to join the audience today in the guise of one individual who considered it pertinent to clap every several bars.
The Enterprise Quartet today comprised ‘cellist Colin Ryan, whose beauty of tone is most remarkably revealed in a chamber music ambiance; violist Charles Pilon, whose playing is constantly simply wonderful; second violinist Yue Deng, who sings through the treacherous terrain of the second violin with aplomb; and Guillaume Tardif, in whom brilliance and art combine into an impassioned understanding of the violin and its music.