Every string quartet ever written is a four-way conversation unencumbered by words. The term “string quartet” denotes both a musical composition and the intimate group that brings it to life for all to hear. By far the most magical place in town to relax and listen while a string quartet plays string quartets is our beloved Art Deco temple of dreams, the Rackham Auditorium. It is there that the multinational Belcea Quartet will present a Mozart-Brahms-Berg program on Saturday, October 18.
Based in Britain, the Belcea (pronounced “Bel-chah”) was co-founded in 1994 by Romanian violinist Corina Belcea and Polish violist Krzysztof Chorzelski. The unit’s other half currently consists of two Frenchmen: violinist Axel Schacher and cellist Antoine Lederlin. Their UMS performance at Rackham will open with Mozart’s twenty-third and final string quartet. Hatched during the summer of 1790, his F major quartet K. 590 was the third of a projected set of six dedicated to amateur cellist Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia. Sitting for Mozart is always a good idea, and hearing this sweetly somber serenade played by the Belcea promises to be a rewarding experience.
If Beethoven was a relentless revisionist, Brahms was almost pathologically self-critical and is believed to have written and destroyed some twenty string quartets before publishing his “first” as Op. 51, No.1, in 1873, when he was forty. Arnold Schoenberg honored Brahms as “The Progressive” for his contributions to the development of “unrestricted musical language,” and his C minor quartet’s outer movements sound as though gnarly problems are being worked out. The lovely Romanze, on the other hand, suggests reflective respite–leading inevitably to the next movement’s pensive passion. Here, as in each of the works to be interpreted by the Belcea, the music becomes a living, breathing organism.
Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite resembles an intricately complex fractal. Composed in 1925-26, it invokes all of Berg’s primary influences. There is musical DNA from Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Second Quartet and Lyric Symphony; Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; and Gustav Mahler’s Song of the Earth. Schoenberg’s presence is powerfully felt, as is the spirit of Berg’s friend and fellow twelve-tone enthusiast Anton Webern. All of this is interwoven with encoded initials and poignant motifs inspired by Berg’s secret extramarital love affair. The movement marked Allegro misterioso seems to take the quartet’s progress to a molecular or even subatomic level, its shimmery contours and pointillist implosions triggering microtonal premonitions of John Cage’s nearly unperformable Freeman Etudes. The Lyric Suite will transform anyone who absorbs its mysteries with open heart and mind when the Belcea Quartet performs it at Rackham.