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Sunday, August 29, 2021, 4:00pm Aliento Chamber Players

Ludwig van Beethoven

String Quartet No. 10, Opus 74
  1. Poco Adagio, Allegro
  2. Adagio ma non troppo
  3. Presto
  4. Allegretto con Variazioni

Premiered in 1809 after Prince Lobkowitz returned after the French left, this is one of three major works composed in that tempestuous year, which for Beethoven personally consisted of his fleeing to the basement of his brother's house, holding pillows over his ears to guard what remained of his hearing from the terrible sounds of Napoleon's army bombarding the city. Nevertheless, this quartet starts with a sunny and relaxed disposition, beginning with an effective slow and melodic introduction which was to be mimicked by future composers.

The quartet in many ways reminds the listener of the composer's fifth and sixth symphonies, composed the year before. The bucolic qualities of the outer movements are very reminiscent of the Pastoral Symphony. The composer drew a great deal from nature in the sound qualities he produced, saying "How delighted I will be to ramble for awhile through the bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks. No one can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo that man desires to hear." In the first movement one hears the pizzicato passages that give the quartet its name in the lower strings, while at the end of the second passage the first violin bursts out with a sudden virtuosic passage that reminds the listener of a little burst of a thunderstorm. The second movement is tender and gentle, the calm that comes after the storm.

When the Presto bursts on the scene, it has the same C minor tonality and four-note rhythm of the Fifth Symphony, whirling about with enormous energy. Interrupted by a cello passage that sounds for all the world like a strong argument, it unfolds several times before winding down to a startlingly gentle conclusion and moving right on to the first of two variation movements in this program.

Johannes Brahms

String Quartet No. 3, Opus 67

  1. Vivace
  2. Andante
  3. Agitato ((Allegretto non troppo)
  4. Poco Allegretto con Variazioni

The third of Johannes Brahms's surviving quartets (many were destroyed by the fastidious composer) was introduced in Berlin in June 1876 by the Joachim Quartet. An uncharacteristically sunny and humorous quartet written during the time the composer was wrestling with his First Symphony, this quartet starts out with a bucolic “hunting-horn” theme with triplet rhythms, reminiscent of the Presto in the Harp quartet. The rhythmic pulse shifts constantly in a playful way, tripping up both the musicians and the listener.

The Andante which follows has an almost Schumannesque feel to it. Pinned to the listener's ear with a simple melody reminiscent of first true love, the swirling voices surround the melody with a spring wind.

It is in the third movement that Brahms creates a spotlight for the viola by muting the other three instruments. Described by the composer as “the tenderest and most impassioned I have ever written,” the heroic melodies of the viola in the outer edges of the movement are joined in the middle by a duo cadenza between the viola and first violin. Retaining its lead role in the beginning of the final movement, the second variation movement of this program, the viola starts the group off on a journey that includes eight variations. Brahms carefully ties the theme to the opening theme of the first movement, and brings the listener's ears back through the entire quartet at the end of the work. Brahms, in his later years, looked back on Op. 67 as his favorite of the three string quartets he produced. As musicians, we are not picking favorites. What do you think?

Zoia Bologovsky, violin

Susan Jensen, violin

Karen McConomy, viola

Dorothy Braker, cello

"With the performance of pianist Mary Towse-Beck, the Aliento Chamber Players series at Christ Episcopal Church has become Exeter's answer to Carnegie Hall"

Lois Yopp
former faculty of music, Northwestern University

"Thanks so much for giving such an enjoyable performance. If Brahms had been in the audience, I’m sure he would have been pleased!"

Jackie Linder

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