DaPonte at Top Form in “More for Four”

DaPonte String Quartet
Unitarian Universalist Church, Brunswick
July 11, 2017
by Christopher Hyde

Most classical music programs take the form of a sandwich. One “difficult” or contemporary work, squeezed between two audience favorites. The DaPonte String Quartet’s concert Tuesday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick, was more of the open-face variety, beginning with a devastating “Four for Tango,” by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla—black as midnight in Buenos Aires and twice as dangerous.

It never ceases to amaze me how much dissonance can be carried on the broad shoulders of the tango, without missing a beat. Everything seems normal, including shrieks on the violins that sound like gauchos sharpening their knives. Every good performance of Piazzolla—and this was one of the best—contains a black hole of violence and despair. “Four for Tango” ends in a knife fight. Absolutely gorgeous.

If one needed further evidence that the DaPonte was in its best form, it was given by the next rendition, of Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio from the String Quartet No. 1. The long, drawn-out increase in intensity built to an almost unbearable level before an abrupt transition to the tranquility of the opening—all with the same richness of texture that one has come to expect in the better-known orchestral version.

It was followed by a delightful series of musical one-liners, “Microcosms,” by John Heiss, narrated by violinist Lydia Forbes. The short jokes range from major and minor seconds “rubbing together” in “Clustered,” to a crazy waltz in “Stuck” to aleatoric shenanigans in “Free.” How can one dislike a composer who writes a fantasy on Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”? (In the concluding “Homeward Bound”).The audience thoroughly enjoyed it.

Speaking of crazy waltzes, the DaPonte presented another example in a magnificent performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59 No. 1, as quirky in its own way as the Heiss piece.
It came in the second movement, Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando in B-llat major, which really is a joke, unlike many scherzi, which take themselves seriously. In the midst of persistent and strangely rhythmical motif in repeated notes comes a strange little tune that is the height of vulgarity and very hard to get out of one’s head.

The scherzo is followed by a seriously melodic adagio, with some appealing cello and violin solos, leading suddenly to series of variations on a Russian theme (sounds like our MSM) insisted upon by the sponsor of Opus 59, the Russian ambassador Count Rasumowsky.

The Count certainly got his money’s worth. Every time one expects the ending chords there comes another take on the “Russian” theme, which I believe was actually invented by Beethoven. Just when the audience thinks it can’ t stand another false cadence, the work comes to an abrupt end—in this case leading to a standing ovation.

The program will be repeated on July 13 at 7:00 p.m. in the Burnt Cove Church community center in Stonington and on July 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal.  He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.