It doesn’t get any better than this. Maine oysters at the Damariscotta River Grill, then a walk across the street to the historic and refurbished Lincoln Theater, where the DaPonte String Quartet was playing Haydn, Bartok and Mozart on Friday night.

The Lincoln Theater has good acoustics for a string quartet — not too much brightness or reverberation but not “dead” either. One can hear each voice distinctly, without favoring either bass or treble.

The program, “Winter Series I: The Austro-Hungarian ‘Invasion,”‘ opened with Haydn’s famous “Lark” Quartet, No. 53 in D Major (Op. 64 No. 5), named for the soaring birdsong-like theme of the first movement. Its most popular section is the final hornpipe, which the DaPonte took at breakneck speed without missing a note.

A thoughtful rendition of the Bartok String Quartet No. 6, which the composer took with him when leaving Hungary one step ahead of the Nazis, provided a note of bitterness but also a resolution that was all the more satisfying for being hard-won.

Each movement of the quartet begins with a recitative marked Mesto (sadly) depicting the composer’s mood at the rise of fascism. In the first movement it is followed by an intellectual, contrapuntal Vivace.

In the second it is succeeded by a sardonic Marcia, which turns out to be a dance of death, and in the third by a Burletta (little joke, or short comic opera), illustrating the transformation of the crowd, first seen in the march, into second-rate imitators of goose-stepping troops.

Bartok detested Shostakovich, but in the Burletta he is even more sardonic than the Soviet composer, making the instruments play a quarter tone apart, so that the march-like tune, while still recognizable, turns to chalk screeches on a blackboard. In some passages, however, there remain snatches of humanity.

The final movement is a meditation on these vestiges of hope. To me it sounds like one of Bartok’s dreams of a summer night, where the composer takes refuge in the natural world.

The final quartet on the program, which Mozart wrote as an offering to Haydn, was an antidote to the Bartok, or perhaps a sugar coating. The Quartet in D Minor (K. 428) was thoroughly delightful, ending in a series of variations on a theme that are miraculous enough for the older musician to declare Mozart the greatest composer in the world.

The concert will be repeated Sunday at 3 p.m. in Studzinski Recital Hall at Bowdoin College.


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