DaPonte String Quartet
Unitarian Universalist Church, Brunswick
March 25, 2018
by Christopher Hyde
“If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” I thought of Blake’s aphorism while listening to Alban Berg’s early String Quartet, Opus 8 (1910) at the final concert of the DaPonte String Quartet’s winter series II at Brunswick’s Unitarian Universalist Church on Saturday.
The Berg was the semi-tonal “meat” in the musical “sandwich” of easily accessible works typical of Maine concerts. The two-movement quartet is full of marvelous ideas, but stated and developed so rapidly that one easily loses track. If he had taken just one, say the “Der Rosenkavalier” dying fall borrowed from Richard Strauss, and played with it for a while…
The work is very dark, but relatively tonal, making use of numerical and literary allusions, such as repeated two-note sequences based on his own initials, AB. In that way, it reminds me of the work of the late Elliott Schwartz. It also has passages that sound strangely like the French horn in their combination of textures.
The quartet would surely benefit from repeated hearings, maybe on the DaPonte web site? Nothing can compare to live music —the DaPonte presents five concerts throughout Maine in each of its seasonal series—but it took many repeats of a recorded Berg “Altenberg Lieder” before I could begin to appreciate it.
I would certainly like to hear the accelerando cello part once again, and the “Morse Code” sequences in which Berg flirts with serialism.
The program began with another early work, the String Quartet in C Major, Op. 20, No. 2, of Joseph Haydn. The concluding movement, Fuga a quattro soggetti, is “too easy for amateurs, too difficult for professionals,” as one critic quipped. Another noted on the score that it was enough to alienate friends who tried to play it together.
The DaPonte, although thorough professionals, succeeded brilliantly. The only noticeable symptom of a fatiguing schedule came in the relatively simple first movement.
The final quartet was Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony,” which, though childish sounding— its four moments are called, “Boisterous Bourrée,” “Playful Pizzicato,” “Sentimental Sarabande,” and “Frolicsome Finale” because it was written by BB for alliterative violist Audrey Alston —was a total delight. It is funny, light-hearted, clever and exudes the essence of British folk music, far removed from the tragedy of “Peter Grimes.”
Britten was only 20 when he wrote it, but the symphony is based on themes from some even earlier works for piano, which I now have to get my hands on. The false cadences in the finale sound like a parody of Beethoven, whose String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1, it replaced on the program.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.