A STRING QUARTET WELL WORTH HEARING
Opus 76 is Welcome Addition to KC’s Classical Scene

by Paul Pattison
Special to KC Arts Beat

The Opus 76 String Quartet presented the fourth concert of its inaugural season at Old Mission United Methodist Church on April 16. Opus 76 is dedicated to bringing chamber music to the underserved. They visit assisted living centers, giving music lessons to the residents, and have made plans to also visit foster care homes and soup kitchens. I only recently discovered this remarkable group of dedicated and accomplished musicians. Their first season is dedicated to the quartets of Haydn and Beethoven.

Haydn, known as “The Father of the Symphony,” is also known as “The Father of the String Quartet,” with good reason. The evening started with a spirited reading of his Opus 76, No 2, the “Sunrise” quartet. The opening melody was very evocative of daybreak slowly blooming into glorious full sunshine and was played with charm and vitality. Haydn’s playful nature was everywhere evident and fully exploited by the performers.

We then moved into the more solemn second movement. Haydn is not generally associated with a profound depth of emotion but what followed was a subtle weaving of harmonies, each building on the one before. A jolly minuet and trio brought us back to the Haydn we know. Reminiscent of a country dance the music swayed with rhythm. A pleasing rondo played with vigor brought the work to a lively conclusion.

A mere eight or nine years separated the composition of tonight’s two works, but a more jarring and dramatic difference is difficult to imagine. Haydn is full of light and wit; Beethoven dark and brooding. Beethoven was commissioned to write three quartets for the Russian ambassador to Vienna, Count Andreas Kirillovitch Razumovsky, apparently with the condition that Beethoven include Russian folk songs.

Opus 59 No. 2 is the middle of the three quartets. The opening movement is confounding, having both longing and fury woven together. It was performed passionately and with deep emotion. In the second movement Beethoven bares his soul. A plaintive, repeated three note motif seems to plead for something unattainable. This was ardently and lovingly played.

The third movement begins with a very angular introduction that soon leads to a sweet song. I assume this was the required Russian folk song. These two themes, angular and sweet, appear to be in competition with each other. Is Beethoven snubbing his nose at the Russian? The opening of the fourth movement harkens back to Haydn but the ever-inventive Beethoven takes over. The full force of Beethoven’s personality becomes evident as the quartet comes to a rousing, furious conclusion.

Old Mission United Methodist Church is a perfect venue for presenting chamber concerts. The vaulted sanctuary is reminiscent of the palaces of counts and bishops, the original patrons and later, coffee houses and private soirees. in this concert Opus 76 did something rarely heard. They obeyed the repeat signs. Some will say having heard it once, move on already. But composers use repeats for a reason; that section deserves being reheard. It was a delight for me. In the two concerts I have attended, the audience has doubled in size. Hopefully that trend will continue until capacity is reached. This is a group well worth hearing again and again.

 

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