Morton Gold

Morton Gold

The opening concert of the 47th season of the Portland String Quartet, sponsored by the Lark Society for Chamber Music, was given at Woodfords Congregational Church on Sept. 27. The program introduced the new cellist of the group, Patrick Owen, who replaced Paul Ross, who retired last year. The other members of the quartet include: Dean Stein and Ronald Lantz, violins, and Julia Adams, viola.

I have previously stated that each is a virtuoso musician in his/her own right and nothing I heard at this concert diminishes that opinion at all. While they are all outstanding individually, collectively they are nothing short of brilliant. Not only do they know their own parts, but it is as if they also know their colleagues’ parts and can even read each others’ minds. This is an incredible achievement. Their phrasing, dynamic range, intonation, technique, etc., are nothing short of amazing. One day (perhaps not in my lifetime), someone will make a faulty entrance, play one note out of tune, or some such evidence of human frailty and I will make a big brouhaha out of it. Frankly, I am not holding my breath for any such thing to occur.

The program began with a quartet by Mozart, his 23rd, and one that he dedicated to the king of Prussia. The king, it should be noted, was an amateur cellist. This was a great way of calling attention to the presence of Mr. Owen. While Mozart gave much of the melodic material to the first violin, as was the custom, the composer also called attention to the cello part in this work. It should be noted that Mr. Own was up to the challenge.

For those who are unfamiliar with the makeup of quartet literature, while the outer parts may be compared to rock stars, it is the second violin and viola that are the major backups that hold the group together and make it possible for the stars to shine, as it were. Among the achievements of the group, I observed that the crescendo (gradual increase in volume) in the first movement was more than remarkable and the changes of tempi (speed) were deftly managed.

The next composition to be performed was the “Lyrical Interludes for String Quartet,” commissioned by the PSQ and composed by Normal Dello Joio in 1998. It is based on piano piece (“Fairy Story”) by Serge Prokofiev. Many other composers have written music based on material by others (“Variations on a theme” by Haydn by Brahms). Before performing the quartet, pianist Laura Kargul played the original work by Prokofiev. Of the three movements, only in the first movement was the piece by Prokofiev most evident. In the other movements there was more Dello Joio than anything else. One advantage of attending programs by the PSQ is the idea that one may hear works in the literature not frequently performed elsewhere and the PSQ gave a brilliant account of this demanding work.

After intermission the sole work performed was the quartet by Maurice Ravel composed in 1903. Ravel’s reputation is mostly based on the large works he wrote for orchestra, e.g. Daphnis and Chloe. He was a poster boy for Impressionism in music. However, he had a classical side to his personality and even though an accomplished pianist, this work shows that he really knew his strings. There are many comments I could make concerning this performance. One will never hear pizzicatti (plucked strings) played more forcefully or with greater precision that occurred in the second movement. Their feeling for the impressionistic effects in the mostly muted third movement was wonderful. The ease with which they faced the difficult passages in the last movement was thrilling.

In short, I will state that while I do not know what perfection really is, I will state that this performance was as close as humans can come to achieving it. The next concert sponsored by the Lark Society will occur on Nov. 8 with a program presented by VentiCordi (Winds and Strings).

— Dr. Gold is a composer/conductor and an arts reviewer for the Journal Tribune.

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