Visiting String Quartet Enchants Gasson Hall
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Few pleasures are both simple and beautiful. Undeniable and basic, the emotional response to the aesthetic beauty of classical music is certainly one of those rare and sometimes unexpected pleasures. In Gasson 100 this past Saturday evening, the Skalholt String Quartet graced the audience with their musical talents, enabling them to effortlessly indulge in the raw beauty of classical performance.
The quartet—with Jaap Schroder and Rut Ingolfsdottir on the violins, Svava Bernharosdottir on the viola, and Sigurour Halldorsson on the cello—was founded back in 1996 in southwest Iceland. After being asked to perform the Seven Last Words of Christ in Skolholt, the quartet traveled and played in France and at a festival in Hungary. They performed in Slovenia, Holland, Italy, Amsterdam, and Spain as well, and now, thanks to the Boston College Music Department and the Institute for the Liberal Arts, the Skalholt String Quartet has played in the United States.
Focusing on historical performance practice of the music of the Classical and early-Romantic eras, the group dedicates much of their time to the works of Schubert and the Hayden brothers. They produced a couple recordings of such pieces for the Music Omnia label, and they are currently working on completing several more. Their repertoire, since their formation, has steadily expanded and continues to grow even now.
In fact, for their concert this weekend, the quartet played compositions not only from Hayden, but also from Boccherini and Mozart. Beginning with Boccherini’s “String Quartet in A Major, Op. 32, No. 6,” they worked through the “Allegro,” the “Andantino lentarello,” the “Minuetto con moto,” and the “Finale: Presto assai.” Breaking the silence, a sweet melody from the viola complemented the deep notes of the cello, completely enchanting and captivating the audience. Intense at times and playful at others, the second Boccherini piece highlighted the violins, accentuating the vitality of each note. Their strokes were short and sharp at first, almost as if they were chasing each other, and then they transformed, merrily frolicking amidst the steady and resounding cello.
The Boccherini performance, like the rest of the performances, mesmerized listeners, pulling them along on an emotional journey with each distinct melody. A brief pause followed each song’s conclusion, until the Skalholt String Quartet promptly began again. Developing hurriedly and strongly before fading into a tempered and pleasant tone, the next piece was characterized by an irresistible tension forwarded on by constant shifts in dynamics. During the bursts and lulls of the violins, the cello remained sound, building upon the same striking refrain.
Following Boccherini, the quartet performed Hayden’s “String Quartet in A Major, Op. 54, No. 2.” It commenced with the “Vivace,” both full and commanding and delicate and bright, and tinged, at times, with a sense of somber urgency. Barely perceptible, yet deliberate, silences in the melody created a tantalizing effect, emphasizing the modest beauty of every prior viola note and anticipating the booming richness of the entire quartet that would proceed. Each audience member hung on the harmonies as they floated and fell in the surrounding air. Serious and sad, the deliberate violins and stern cello of the “Adagio” were exquisitely wrenching—emotions lingered with every echo. Then came the “Menuetto con motto.” It was slow and reservedly happy, almost pleading, with short bow strokes scaling up and reaching a high tone touched with worry. The quartet closed their set of Haydn with the “Finale: Adagio-Presto-Adagio,” a piece that consistently altered its tempo, but finished with a lovely, subtle end.
Joining the Skalholt String Quartet for their last set, “Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major, K. 581” by Mozart, was internationally-acclaimed wind instrument specialist Owen Watkins. Watkins’ clarinet added a fluid, soft sound to the quintet, balancing the thinner, sharp tones of the violins. Ascending and descending with scales through all four Mozart pieces—the “Algretto,” the “Larghetto,” the “Menuetto,” and the “Tema con Variazioni: Allegretto”— the clarinet added a strong, spirited element to the performance. In both the first and the last pieces, Owen’s fingers bounced swiftly up and down his clarinet, making the melody skip smoothly along.