On Saturday, May 11, 2019, the Candlelight Concert Society presented “Escher String Quartet” at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre, Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center. Escher String Quartet which includes Adam Barnett-Hart, violin, Danbi Um, violin, Pierre LaPointe, viola and Brook Speltz, cello performed music by Mozart, Korngold and Dvořák. For tonight’s performance, the group added Christopher Shih on piano for the latter’s quintet. The string quartet was formed in 2005 and quickly came to the attention of key musical worldwide figures. They are the String Quartet in Residence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and also Tuesday Musical in Akron. This allows them to work to educate young musicians. The group has released three volumes of the complete Mendelssohn Quartets on the BIS label. They have also recorded the complete Zemlinsky String Quartets in two volumes. The quartet takes its name from Dutch graphic artist, M.C. Escher and “were inspired by Escher’s method of interplay between individual components working together to form a whole.”
Shih, besides being an award-winning pianist is also a physician. His performances have been heralded worldwide and he regularly appears with world-class artists like the Escher Quartet.
Throughout the performance, the group’s instruments blended perfectly reflecting the time they have performed together. By choosing this wide range of music, Escher String Quartet highlighted their virtuosity.
The program opened with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Quartet in F major, K. 590.” It was Mozart’s last piece for String Quartet and was published shortly after his death. The piece reflects Mozart’s joy of life. Mozart died young but was known for burning the candle at both ends. The piece starts off with the upbeat movement “Allegro moderato.” The second movement “Andante: Allegretto” is slower but still has the dulcet harmonies. “Menuetto: Allegretto” is more energetic and contrasts with the lighter movements. “Allegro,” again, has those upbeat melodies of the composer.
The second composer, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, wrote in the 20th Century. Early in his career he was considered the Mozart of his day. Both men were child prodigies. He fled the Nazis in the 1930’s and moved to Los Angeles. There he became a renowned composer of movie scores, winning two Oscars. His symphonic scoring became the standard and is still used today by composers like John Williams. Escher String Quartet chose his “Quartet no. 3 in D major, op. 34” which coincidentally was his last String Quartet. Perhaps because he was older, in his late 40’s when he wrote the piece, and perhaps the trauma of leaving his homeland and probably losing family and friends in Europe during the Holocaust, Korngold’s music is more somber. You can hear that in the opening movement “Allegro moderato,” and “Scherzo: Allegro molto” which is faster paced but still lacks the gaiety in the Mozart Quartet. “Sostenuto: Like a folk tune” is just that, but still very Eastern European in flavor. “Finale: Allegro” is more passionate, and the ending is reminiscent of the climaxes of the action movies Korngold was famous for scoring.
After Intermission Escher String Quartet was joined by Shih on the piano for Antonín Dvořák’s “Piano Quintet in A major, op. 81.” The famous Czech composer is best known for his “New World Symphony.” The opening movement, “Allegro ma non tanto” begins with only the cello, setting the tone for Dvořák’s famous mood changes reflective of his personality. The best known of these movements is “Dumka: Andante con moto” whose recurring theme was used in Nat King Cole’s hit, “Nature Boy.” The composer used the viola to help create the darker moods of the movement of the quintet. The last two movements, “Furiant: Molto vivace” and “Finale: Allegro” are actually dances. The first is a Czech dance and the second a polka. However, don’t imagine a modern polka. This one more likely was composed with the influences of Viennese-type dance floors with long flowing gowns and fancy hair-dos.
Throughout the performance, the group’s instruments blended perfectly reflecting the time they have performed together. By choosing this wide range of music, Escher String Quartet highlighted their virtuosity. Shih’s performance was masterful and the piano portions sounded like he had worked with them many times.
After the show, we were treated to a short half-hour program by the Peabody Pre-Conservatory Violin Program, Rebecca Henry, Director and Hsiao-Ying Lin, Piano. The young members on violins included Olivia Chen, Connor Chaikowsky, Jing Fan, Florian Grȁder-Beck, Miyabi Henriksen, Nina Shih, Joseph Tao, Anne-Marie Wnek. My favorite piece was “Hora Staccato” by Grigoras Dinicu, a Romanian composer, arr. By J. Heifetz. It was a charming end to not just this concert but this Season of Candlelight Concerts.
Running time: Two hours with an intermission.
However, if you missed this terrific season, Candlelight Concert Society will start again with some traditional and non-traditional classical music. On Oct 5, 2019, they will be presenting Hanzhi Wang on accordion followed by Paul Lewis, piano on Oct. 26, 2019. For more concert dates and specifics, you can go to their website.