Richard Fleischman, viola
Claudio Jaffé, cello
by Steve Gladstone ( Miami Art Zine) on Dec 6, 2012
The Delray String Quartet – whose collective accomplishments include Concert Master chairs, performances with national and international orchestras, the Windsor and Steuermann Prizes, and reviews by the New York Times – lives, breathes and plays in South Florida.
If you were one of the 70 who populated All Saints Episcopal Church on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, it was something to give thanks for. This acoustically prime hall in the heart of Fort Lauderdale hosted the DSQ for their 9th season opener, which kicked off with Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Overture to "Die Fledermaus."
The capable foursome navigated this multi-tempoed rescored piece cleanly through every transition, from the jaunty top, the violins crisp and enthusiastic with the familiar waltz section, turning every corner on point, to the scamper for the finish line, the pauses, brief, silent and tight, each robust phrase framed nicely.
In keeping with DSQ's tradition of bringing lesser known works to their audience, they offered up one from Ludwig himself. We know that Beethoven was a pack rat and like other composers, many of his works were never published. Beethoven's Duo in E flat major "with 2 Eyeglasses Obbligato," for viola and cello, WoO 32, was such a composition. (The "WoO" stands for "Without Opus.") It's possible that Beethoven originally played the viola on this amusing duet, and his friend, the amateur cellist Nikolaus Zmeskall, accompanied him. Beethoven later wrote Zmeskall in a letter, "Dearest Baron Garbage-truck driver, I am obliged to you for the weakness of your eyes." Perhaps Zmeskall lent Beethoven his eyeglasses?
DSQ's Richard Fleischman, viola, and Claudio Jaffé, cello, rendered this charming two movement piece, flamboyantly sporting their spectacles. This was a lighthearted dialogue between the two instruments, beginning with a counterpoint that soon enough became a melody being tossed back and forth between the two voices, like two friends in conversation. It moved into a minor mood, at one point slowing to a crawl as the duo comically adjusted their eyeglasses, then ramped up into a sense of pure playfulness. Though this piece is unfinished, Beethoven possibly turning to a commissioned work, these movements we have are delightful as is.
Mei Mei Luo, first violin, and second violin, Tomas Cotik, were next up with Prokofiev's Sonata for two Violins in C major, op 56. A lesser known work from the master, the four brief movements are, as described by Svyatoslav Prokofiev, the composer's son, "lyrical, playful, fantastic and violent in turn."
This piece premiered in 1932, perhaps a musical struggle between Prokofiev's life in the West (He left Russia shortly after the 1917 Revolution) and his native homeland, to which he returned by the mid-1930s. Luo and Cotik traversed the striking themes throughout the four movements with skill and dexterity, embracing Prokofiev's warmer Western style and chowing down on the biting and confrontational passages characteristic of the scores that had made Prokofiev notorious in his youth. From the dark first movement, the violins wandering aimlessly, Luo embodied the high lamenting voice, inconsolable into the second movement where the gnashing of teeth was heard in argument, the two voices almost coming together in an agitated state before the abrupt ending of the second. The duo begins the third with a lighter interaction, the violins remaining in the upper register for most of the sequence, Luo continuing to soar in the final movement as Cotik cadenced with a two-step Russian march. As a melody tried to emerge, the two players, standing with inspired expressions, moving back and forth, sounding like busy bees, plucked their strings and sprinted to the finish line.
The anchor of the evening was Dvořák's Quartet no 12 in F major, op 96 "American." Upon first hearing the "American" many years ago, I recall being struck by how well a distinctly Native American sound had worked its way into a string quartet. Analysts have tried to identify specifically American folk motifs in the quartet, though the pundits apparently remain inconclusive. However, if you let this music wash over your brain, abandoning all analysis, you will hear the primal sounds of 'Negro, Indian, and Irish' folk tunes that were no doubt swirling in Dvořák's unconscious while he was vacationing in Spillville, Iowa in 1893.
Fleischman's viola introduced the wide-open theme (the result of Dvořák using a pentatonic or 5-tone scale) and quickly tossed it to Luo's violin, each voice then taking a turn with the floating melodic footprint, blending sublimely at the movement's end. The second was a pensive stroll, the violins in lovely compliment, Jaffé's cello then serving the theme with warmth and a rich pizzicato bottom. The upbeat third, a quirky brew filled with "off-beats and cross-rhythms," emerged with Luo's violin becoming the scarlet tanager, singing the bird's song on the instrument's short neck. The fourth, a scamper releasing the violin to dance in the sunlight, then a sprint turning into a lazy stride past the flowers, concluded with the foursome all raising their bows in the air triumphantly after the final note.
This remarkable manuscript, with its robust harmonic language and satisfying melodies, was completed in three days, and freshly captured almost 120 years later by the hands of the DSQ, their concentration and energy in perfect pitch.
Don Thompson, DSQ's founder and sponsor, has again kicked off another fine season that will run through April 2013. This 9th season will include guest artists, Born Lau, viola, and Aaron Merritt, cello (performing this weekend, Dec 7/9), and in 2013, Tao Lin, Piano, and Deborah Fleisher, Harp, putting their heart and hands to Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Saint-Saens and Debussy.
The Colony Hotel, Delray Beach
Single Admission: $35 per event / Season Subscription (5 concerts) : $150
All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Lauderdale
Single Admission: $30 per event / Season Subscription (5 concerts) : $130
All Saints Episcopal Church
333 Tarpon Drive, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
The Colony Hotel
525 East Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33483
Delray String Quartet
455 NE 5th Avenue, Suite D-138
Delray Beach, FL 33483