The DaPonte String Quartet played one of the most interesting concerts of the season Friday night at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Falmouth. Two masterpieces of the string quartet repertoire, Alban Berg’s “Lyric Suite” and the Schubert Quartet in D Minor (“Death and the Maiden”) were juxtaposed under the title “Fatal Attraction.”

Both deal with the theme of love and death, but they also have much in common musically, even though the Schubert is tonal and the Berg is written in strict 12-tone idiom.

Schubert’s quartet, published posthumously, has the happier ending, since death and youth are reconciled in the cycle of life, while the love depicted by Berg ends in despair. The suite depicts the doomed affair of Berg with a married woman, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin.

Both pieces also make huge demands on the string quartet’s resources, which the DaPonte met with elegance and passion.

The “Lyric Suite” also makes demands on the listener, but not as many as one might expect from the difficulty of the 12-tone writing. Berg is a consummate musician, in that he makes whatever compositional formula he chooses into a powerful vehicle for conveying emotion. Serialism provided him with the perfect tool for the time.

The first bars of the “Lyric Suite” provoke the usual “uh-oh” in listeners accustomed to tonality, but the ear accepts the idiom surprisingly fast, even on first hearing.

The motifs, such as the lovers’ initials sequence — ABHF (H is B-flat in German) — are usually easy to recognize, even though their transformations may not be, and 12-tone music proves itself ideal for painting pictures, from domestic bliss through scenes with children, to dreadful nightmares.

Berg also accomplishes wonders with tone color, as in the third movement, Allegro misterioso, played on the wood rather than the strings of the bow.

The impression is of a commingling of spirits. At any rate, the next movement, Adagio appassionato, with the theme “You are mine,” depicts rapturous satisfaction.

Reality sets in with the fourth movement, Presto delirando-Tenebroso, in which the hero suffers heart-pounding nightmares before falling into a troubled sleep. The final Largo desolado is a setting of a Baudelaire poem, “Vox Profundis Clamavi,” the epitome of desolation.

The story goes that Berg and Hanna were in the library of her home when the book of poems fell off the shelf, opened to page 46, twice 23, which was the composer’s fateful number.

The suite fades away on a repeated 2-note phrase on the viola, signifying either numbness or resignation.

The Schubert quartet, on the other hand, combines the musical signatures of death and the maiden he eventually seduces, in a dramatic climax. The psychological development that leads to this conclusion might even have influenced Berg.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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