17.Haydn’s “The Lark”
Haydn’s op. 64 quartets were premiered in 1791, during the composer’s first visit to London. Haydn had long been extremely popular on the London scene, and in 1790, the death of his employer Prince Nikolaus Esterházy gave him the freedom and financial independence to travel there. Concerts were organised by German violinist and impresario Johann Salomon, who played first violin in the premiere of the “Lark” Quartet. This work gets its name from the first violin’s high, warbling line in the opening movement, as well as from its memorable sudden entrance in the eighth measure. Haydn plays this birdsong motif against the jaunty opening theme throughout the playful Allegro moderato. The Adagio foregrounds a sweet, lyrical first violin melody, while the third movement features a jolly minuet and minor trio. The whirlwind Finale gives the first violin another opportunity for display – a sprightly, rapid-fire melody with staccato accompaniment.
Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E-flat major, op. 12, begins with an introduction that clearly alludes to the beginning of Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet, op. 74, in the same key. This was Mendelssohn’s first published string quartet, and despite paying homage to Beethoven, the work demonstrates Mendelssohn’s precocious talent, daring, and expression. In the first movement, bursts of recitative in the first violin and an ominous melody introduced in the development reveal the quartet’s lyrical, even operatic, nature. The Canzonetta (little song) replaces the usual scherzo, and the scintillating trio section features Mendelssohn’s signature light, aerial fairy music. The expressive first violin aria in the third movement demonstrates another one of Mendelssohn’s specialties – the quintessentially Romantic song without words. There is no break before the tempestuous finale, which begins in an intensely dramatic C minor rather than the original E-flat major. This home key returns only in the final coda, as music from the slow introduction to the first movement restores the warmth and tenderness with which the work began.
© Ariadne Lih, 2018
Fine Arts Quartet
The Fine Arts Quartet, “one of the gold-plated names in chamber music” (Washington Post), ranks among the most distinguished ensembles in chamber music today, with an illustrious performance history and an extensive legacy of over 200 recorded works. Founded in Chicago in 1946, the quartet is one of the elite few to have recorded and toured internationally for well over a half-century.
The quartet’s renowned violinists, Ralph Evans (prizewinner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition) and Efim Boico (former Concertmaster of the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim) have performed together for 35 years. They are joined by two eminent musicians: violist Gil Sharon (founder of the Amati Ensemble), and cellist Niklas Schmidt (co-founder of the Trio Fontenay).
Many of the Fine Arts Quartet’s latest releases have been selected for inclusion on Grammy Awards entry lists in the categories “Best Classical Album” and “Best Chamber Music Performance” and have received multiple awards and distinctions, among which are “Gramophone award winner” and “recording of legendary status” (Gramophone Classical Music Guide), “Key Recording/Top Recommendation” (Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music), “Editor’s Choice” (Gramophone Magazine), “Critic’s Choice” (American Record Guide), “BBC Music Magazine Choice”, “Recording of the Year” [3 times] (MusicWeb International), and a Grammy Award for producer Steven Epstein (Fauré Quintets with Cristina Ortiz). The quartet also received the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, given jointly by Chamber Music America and the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. The quartet’s latest CD (Mozart) will be released by Naxos in the fall of 2018.
The Fine Arts Quartet’s members have nurtured many of today’s top young international quartets while teaching at the Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music in Milwaukee, as well as serving as guest professors at major conservatories in Paris and London, and participating in music festivals all over the world.
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