Category Archives: Reviews

Weird and Wonderful Rossini

Oratorio Chorale
Unitarian Universalist Church
Brunswick
Mar. 3, 2019
by Christopher Hyde

Kudos to Emily Isaacson and the Oratorio Chorale for bringing to Maine one of the weirdest concoctions of the musical world—Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, written in 1863, after the composer had retired with honors from the opera world.

The original work, as heard on Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick, is scored for two pianos, harmonium, chorus and voice quartet. As its name implies, it was intended for performance in a the composer’s salon (which must have been very large), rather than a church, and it is by no means petite, lasting over an hour and a half.

My own opinion is that “solenelle” refers to the lightness of content. It is a traditional Mass, if assembled somewhat strangely, but includes lovely arias that Rossini wished he had used in operas, some very popular, if not to say vulgar, tunes and a piano score straight out of the Monty Python skit in which the pianist wanders through every coda and key change known to man without coming to a conclusion. Satie was also to parody conventional conclusions, but much later in time. Rossini may have played the piano accompaniment himself, which would do something to explain the musical jokes.

The Mass begins with a technique that I have detested ever since I was five: taking a phrase from the liturgy and worrying it forever, like a dog with a bone, until one wonders if the repeats will ever end.

The totally insane but amusing piano part was mightily executed by Scott Wheatley and Tina Davis, while a reed organ, well played by Ray Cornils, substituted for the harmonium. The reed organ becomes the voice of reason.

After the Kyrie and he Gloria, Rossini inserts four musical forms unrelated to the Mass, although (somewhat) following the text: a Terzettino, a Bass solo, sung by the tenor, a Duetto and a Solo marche militaire sung by the baritone.

The duet, between soprano Deborah Selig and counter-tenor Reginald Mobley, made sense of the latter’s request of Isaacson to perform the Peite Messe. It is stunningly beautiful.

The chorus, in the second of two grueling performances on the same day, was in good form, but choral writing was not Rossini’s strong point. He concentrated on the soloists, alone and in combination and awarded them the highlights. Tenor Matt Anderson and baritone Paul Max Tipton sang beautifully but showman Rossini liked to give the best parts to his divas.

The score is strange all the way through, almost as if the composer were afraid of being taken too seriously. An unnecessary accompaniment to the passing of the offering plate makes the piano behave seriously. The Sanctus is deeply felt, especially the “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and the accompaniment is reasonable in a soprano rendition of a non-traditional text by Thomas Aquinas. The counter-tenor and chorus have the last word, in a profound Agnus Dei.

The Petite Messe is a one key to the mystery of Rossini’s retirement at a relatively early age. He felt that he had said all that he wanted in the form of popular opera, he had plenty of money,  why not quit while you’re ahead? HIs works after retirement he regarded as the sins of old age and were intended for friends and acquaintances. God forbid they should compete with his operatic legacy. Rossini was a gourmet, and he wanted to devote his remaining years to gastronomy. Hence Tournedos Rossini.

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

Healing With Music

Sacred Equilibrium
Sandara Yoga Studio, Brunswick
Mar. 2, 2019
by Christopher Hyde

The healing power of music, like that of art and poetry, has been known for thousands of years.

Saturday evening at Brunswick’s Sundara Yoga Studio, the power of art and music came together in “Sacred Equilibrium” by musician and sound healer Shirsten Lundblad, in a gallery of visionary drawings by June Atkin and her late “Artner,” Timothy Wyllie (1940-2017).

The two modalities complemented each other very well
.

Shirsten, a massage therapist and Master of Divinity (Harvard), presided over our wedding here on the farm some 20 years ago. I have written earlier about her experiments with “the music of the spheres” in healing and restoring balance.. Saturday she brought a large gong tuned to Neptune, which was quite spectacular in its volume and complexity of overtones, giving everyone attending a “gong bath.” For some reason or other (suggestion?), the sound evoked images of the watery planet singing its way through space.

The hour-and-a-half program featured diverse sounds made by Native American-style frame drum, a steel drum shaped like a gigantic clam, many “singing bowls,”  which produce a sound like that of a wineglass rubbed with a wet finger, a xylophone, rattles, bells and a ukulele, which Shirsten used to accompany herself in a Tibetan Bhuddhist chant to the goddess of music.

After an audience exploration of the sung vowel sounds related to each chakra, the various instruments were shared. What began as cacophony eventually migrated to a form of harmony , which was surprising. I have seen the same effect with the human voice, as each modifies pitch slightly to match someone else’s production; I don’t see how it can happen with fixed pitch instruments, but it did.

If you would like to learn more about sound healing, you might want to visit Shirsten in Freeport, or explore the books on musical healing by the late Maine composer Kaye Gardner.

The gallery display will be open to the public once more on Friday, March 15, from 4:30 to 7:30. The drawings, which are both visionary and highly detailed (in Prismacolor Pencil), are well worth seeing.

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

The Classics Come to One Longfellow Square

Cuarteto Quiroga
One Longfellow Square
Feb. 24, 2019
by Christopher Hyde

A good-sized audience turned out on a miserable, wet and icy Sunday afternoon, for the first classical concert to be held at One Longfellow Square in Portland. “Music for a Change,” under the direction of Seth Warner, brought the world-renowned Spanish string quartet, Cuarteto Quiroga, to the popular venue for a concert of works by Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola, Bartok and Beethoven.

In spite of the wide range of styles, the program was unified by brilliantly shaded performances that bought out the works’ surprizing similarities.

Arriaga, born in 1806, was a child prodigy who, after moving from Spain to Paris, died at the age of 20. He was known as the Spanish Mpzart, but his published ouvre was small, including three phenomenal string quartets, the first of which opened the program.

It is amazingly well constructed, in spite of the composer’s age, with strongly stated themes and unusual developments. The final movement is a charming suite of Spanish dances which brought smiles to the faces of the players. Even without the dances, the quartet has a Spanish flavor, not merely because of guitar-like passages but also because of the imitation of speech pattens in musical phrases.

Dances and speech pattens bring us to the great Bartok String Quartet No. 2, which came next.. The quartet has been likened to the portrait of a life—youth, middle age and old age, and that program unifies it as much as any other. The first movement is characterized by violent moods swings, false starts, and moments of joy without reflection. The second, which is supposed to be “jovial,” is slightly frenetic, with dance rhythms gathered by the composer on his field trips in Middle Europe. In the final movement, the clouds roll in, but the atmosphere is more tranquil, one might say lyrical.

The importance of Hungarian speech pattens in Bartok’s music cannot be overestimated, whether it was done consciously —most likely—or was a product of the subconscious. I sometimes think that a supremely receptive ear could interpret the music as meaningful language, like the sounds of a talking drum.

The Quiroga gave it a definitive performance, sending a number of people to the lobby for their CD of the work.

After the Bartok, the late Beethoven String Quartet, Opus 135, sounded as pure and harmonic as a Mozart piano sonata, at least at first. We discover that Beethoven too can dance, on the edge of the abyss, and turn a German phrase and its reply, (Must it be? It must be.) into a ,musical motif.

I loved the Quiroga’s interpretation, supremely lyrical when called for, and unafraid to unleash the violence elsewhere in Beethoven’s score. The roar that Helena Poggio unleashed from her cello was awe inspiring. All the players received a prolonged standing ovation.

I hope Music for a Change is encouraged to stage more classical music.events. The One Longfellow Square venue is the perfect size for chamber music.

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

Masterpieces of Color

Portland Symphony Orchestra,
Merrill Auditorium
Jan. 27, 2019
by Christopher Hyde

It is a requirement, under penalty of banishment, that guest conductors, or musical directors designate, lavishly praise the musicians of whatever orchestra happens to be in front of them. In the case of Eckart Preu and the Portland Symphony Orchestra, as presented Sunday afternoon at Merrill Auditorium, the praise was both genuine and well-deserved.

Preu, in a daring choice of compositions, showed that the PSO, when properly rehearsed and conducted, is the equal of any orchestra in the world. There is no such thing as musical perfection, except in the hands of a recording engineer, but in terms of technique and full realization of emotional and musical content, the performances could not have been better.

I use the word “daring” because the pieces chosen were both well-known masterpieces of difficult-to-achieve orchestral color. Both were resplendent, clear and brilliant, while full of seldom-revealed relationships. Preu, in his Gershwin concert last year, made “American in Paris” sound better than it is. On Sunday, he and the PSO made some old warhorses into frolicking colts.

In between, he convinced a capacity audience to actually enjoy the world premiere of a “modern” work by Michael-Thomas Foumai (b.1987): “The Telling Rooms,” commissioned by the PSO and based upon poetry by young Maine authors Aubrey Duplissie, Husna Quinn and Eliza Rudalevige.

Each of the poems, respectively “The Happiest Color,” ”Dressed in Red,” and “Ink Wash,” describes emotions associated with a color or colors. Foumai’s tonal and youthfully rhythmic settings provide an equivalent kaleidoscope of moods. The composer and poets, who were in the audience, received a warm round of applause.

The program began with Tchaikovsky’s ”Romeo and Juliet” Overture Fantasy, which needs no description other than the plot of Shakespeare’s play.  Program writers seem incredulous that a homosexual could have written what is arguably the greatest love music ever composed, but the best description of war, “The Red Badge of Courage,” was written by a man who never saw combat. (And there are questions about Shakespeare’s romantic inclinations too.)

I’m digressing because there is nothing to say about Sunday’s performance except that it was the finest I have heard anywhere.
Ditto (I think) for Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Op. 35.

There may be more technically perfect recordings—that sound engineer again—but seldom any as moving. Or any that delineate the emotional transformations of themes as well. As just one example, the astonishing performance of concert master Charles Dimmick, whose solo violin depicts the story-teller Scheherazade as she strings along the murderous Sultan night after a thousand nights, wondering what happens next. Her voice actually seems to mature before being heard as the last word in the symphony.

Preu emphasized the “what comes next” aspect with unusually long pauses, which worked perfectly.

The audience, which had remained perfectly silent though a lengthy performance, erupted in cheers as the last bubbles rose from Sinbad’s wrecked ship, never questioning how a land-locked Russian could write the world’s best sea-inspired music.

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

Midcoast Premiers Shemaria Trumpet Concerto

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Franco Center, Lewiston
Jan. 12, 2019
by Christopher Hyde

Concertos often turn into contests of will between the soloist and the conductor.  Rich Shemaria has written a Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, given its world premier at the Franco Center last night by the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra under Rohan Smith, that virtually eliminates the problem.

In the hands of Wayne du Maine, the trumpet is always first among equals. “Equals” being the operative word, as the soloist interacts with smaller groups of instruments, rather like a concerto grosso, persuading rather than dominating.

There is a section for brass chorus immediately after the opening notes, in which any one of the orchestra members could be the soloist, while du Maine saves his considerable virtuosity for the final riff of the piece. (Shemaria is noted as a jazz composer.)

There are various unifying motifs and melodic lines through the work, which is somewhat dissonant in a post-Gershwin American style. Philosophically, however, the over-arching theme is the ability of the trumpet to lead, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

The most notable example comes near the end of the second movement, when complete chaos is converted in a few measures to a melodic episode on the strings, arranged by the trumpet, which pulls everything together. In another, it changes the direction of a brutalist march.

The Midcoast gave the concerto, which I consider a seminal composition, its best possible introduction, while du Maine was spectacular in a score that is difficult without being flashy.

I usually dislike encores, but du Maine’s brilliant improvisation referenced some of the sources of Shemaria’s work, besides being a lot of fun.

The program began with an unusual reading of the Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments in E-flat Major (Op. 7), written by Richard Strauss when he was 17. Critics of Strauss take him at his word when he refers to himself as the best second-rate composer, but if juvenilia are any indication, he is right up there with Mozart and Mendelssohn.

The Serenade is as good as anything they wrote at that age, with the added difficulty of orchestration. What clinches it is the fact that from the first notes, one knows it is by Strauss, even if one has never heard it before—the hallmark of genius.

I have never been a great admirer of Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony, No. 1 in B-flat Major (Op. 38), but the Midcoast’s version changed my mind, bringing out beauties that I had not heard on recordings.

The tempo was perfect and the execution so accomplished that one could concentrate on the music, with the small but telling details Rohan Smith was able to emphasize in the midst of broad melodic sweeps.

The brass choir opening harked back to the Shemaria Concerto, as did a wonderful figure for French horns that ended on a descending phrase from the flute. (The concerto offered a lovely upward harp glissando that ended with a note from the triangle.)

The concert will be repeated today, Sunday, at 2:30 in the Orion Center in Topsham. It would be a sovereign antidote for a week’s zero weather.

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

New Christmas Music from Renaissance Voices

Renaissance Voices
Cathedral Church of St. Luke
Dec. 16, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

The Renaissance Voices Christmas concert has long been the highlight of the season for those looking for that still, small voice amidst the hyperbole and commercialization. This year’s programs, two concerts Saturday and Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, were no exception. As a bonus they included a new work by  director Harold Stover: “For Christmas Day,” setting verses by Bishop Joseph Hall (1574-1656).

In style and content it belongs to the same family as the early works in which the a cappella choir excels and seems to have been written especially for them. The polyphonic voices, however, converge on some fascinating perfect intervals that would never have occurred to Palestrina ((1525-1594) but give the work an exquisite touch of dissonance. It received a standing ovation from the large audience Sunday at St. Luke’s. (The ushers ran out of programs.)

Three other contemporary works appeared on the program, the first of which was a companion piece to an early plainsong, “Conditor alme siderum,” by Italian composer Carlotta Ferrari (b. 1975).

“The Shepherds sing, and shall I silent be?,“ by American composer Tom Mueller (b. 1985), was a devoted setting of verses by George Herbert (1593-1633), which were first read aloud by Kirk Read.

I found the sung version of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my Shepherd…”) by Patricia Van Ness (b. 1951) of Cambridge (Mass.), less effective than some of her earlier works performed by the choir in previous concerts. It is part of a project to musik all 150 Psalms. She would be advised to use the King James versions, which are poetry, instead of the wooden, pedantic and condescending translations of the Revised Standard Bible.

The spoken selections this year were outstanding, including Yeats’ horrifying “The Second Coming,” read by Bernie Horowitz,  E.B. White’s “Christmas Wishes” by Woody Howard and Steve Ryan, the aforementioned “The Shepherds Sing,” and Christina Rosetti’s “A Christmas Carol, read by Sarah Potter.

The choir continued its exploration of Neun Advent-Motetten, by Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901), which should be heard more often around this time of year.

About the Renaissance Voices performance of works by Palestrina, Francesco Soriano (c.1548-1621), and Andrea Gabrieli (1532-1585) there is little to say. except that they filled the cathedral with glorious sound up to its vaulted ceiling, just as the composers intended.

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

Magical Music and Musical Magic

“Magic of Christmas”
Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
Dec. 14-23, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Bruce Hangen has returned after 39 years to conduct another series of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Magic of Christmas” concerts at Merrill Auditorium. He has put the emphasis on the music to create a truly magical experience.

Assistance from one of Maine’s glorious sopranos, Elisabeth Marshall, the Windham Chamber Singers under Dr. Richard Nickerson, the 80-strong Magic of Christmas Chorus under Nicolás Alberto Dosman, Christopher Pelonzi on the Kotzschmar Organ and narrator Zach Handlen, helped make the season brighter for a couple of hours.

The orchestra and chorus collaborated well on the opening “A Christmas Festival,” a much better medley than is usually arranged, and an unusual Festival Gloria, which was powerful yet clear.

The orchestral arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” that followed, was worth the price of admission, but things got better still, with Marshall’s rendition of “Rejoice” from “Messiah,” one of the most difficult and highly ornamented arias in the repertoire.

I have never heard it performed as well. Most sopranos just sweat it out, but Marshall revealed its inner beauties with seeming ease. The orchestra and chorus sang the “Hallelujah” very well, but it was not this sort of revelation.

She was equally spectacular following intermission in a piece called “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas, in which her true love gives her gifts of individual instruments and sections of the orchestra. To add to the fun, each of the sections, when possible,  plays an easily recognizable passage from the classics. A sort of Christmas “Young People’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

Marshall joined the Windham Chamber Singers, of which she is an alumna, in an authentic gospel version of “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.”

Handlen did a fine job of projecting over the orchestra in a clever musical version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” and paired with Marshall, the orchestra and choruses in a rousing “PSO Polar Express Suite.”

The Magic of Christmas Chorus was at its best in “Many Moods of Christmas,” with a tremendous march-like rendering of “Adeste Fideles.”

No “Magic” concert would be complete without a raucous version of “Sleigh Ride,” but Hangen killed two birds with one stone by having a youngster conduct it (as used to be the case with “Waltz of the Flowers”). “See, it’s easy, all you have to do is wave your arms until the music stops and then take a bow,” Hangen quipped. The requisite “Nutcracker” selection was filled by the “March,” with scurrying mice.

If I had any quibble with this year’s version of “Magic,’ it would be with the sing-along carols, which seemed a little heavy on the “Frosty the Snowman/Rudolf” side. Still, the most relevant and vital side of the holiday had already been covered by the orchestra and chorus, and the kids in the audience knew most of the words without a program.

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

Christmas Gifts Old and New

St. Mary Schola
Cathedral Church of St. Luke
Dec. 11, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

St. Mary Schola, the early music choir founded by Bruce Fithian a decade ago, celebrated its anniversary this week with three concerts, two at its namesake church in Falmouth and one Tuesday night at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland.

Their Christmas gift was a complete performance, with baroque chamber orchestra, of “The Christmas Story” by Heinrich Schütz, first sung in 1660, when the composer was 75.

The work is operatic in nature, with a long narrative recitative telling the familiar tale, interrupted at key points by musical interludes that highlight the more important—and dramatic— scenes. It is based on passages from the translation of the Bible into German by Martin Luther.

The translation in the program would have been more moving to most English speakers if it had used the King James version of the selected verses.

That said, the part of the Evangelist (who narrates the story) was masterfully sung by tenor Martin Lescault, who managed a flood of rapid German with aplomb. The Evangelist is generally matter-of-fact, but where emotion does break out, as in Rachel weeping for her children, or the joyous conclusion, he made the most of it.

The interludes, or intermedia, are early examples of tone painting in music, and must have been highly effective to an audience with senses innocent of moving images on a screen. For the most part they remain viable today. The bucolic recorders portraying the Shepherds in the Field, or the shrill trumpets that accompany Herod, worked very well. The angel urging Joseph to get up and get out of Egypt, sung by mezzo-soprano Jenna Guiggey, reminded me of Bach’s “Wachet Auf.”

The orchestra was excellent, especially in the concluding passages with full chorus, in which its full volume was realized.

It was in volume that the performance was a little short of ideal. I did not hear the concerts at St. Mary’s, but what might have worked perfectly there was not loud enough to fill the larger space at St. Luke’s, especially with the larger audience.

The same was true of the spoken interludes during the first half of the program. Those doing the readings were not professional actors, and did not have the clarity and resonance to make themselves understood in the back of the hall.

The first half had some beautiful,and unusual touches, mostly repeats of works performed at previous St. Mary Schola Christmas concerts. Of note was the “Learned of Angel,” by the Sabbathday Lake Shakers and a grand “Jerusalem gaude gaudio magno” by Jacob Handl (1550-1585). The bright star, however, was an enchanting “Videte miraculam” of Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585), which was truly miraculous.

The Christmas season has an embarrassment of musical riches, but I want to mention two of the more unusual: a screening of “Messiah” sponsored by the Bach Virtuosi Festival at Cinemagic in Westbrook at 7:30 on Dec. 18, and pianist Diane Walsh at Lewiston’s Franco Center, Dec. 21 at 7:00 p.m. Walsh is one of the foremost interpreters of modern piano music and will be playing “A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979” by George Crumb, in addition to more familiar classics.
Admission to the “Messiah” simulcast, live from Trinity Church in Manhattan and featuring members of the Bach Virtuosi, is free for up to four people with a message requesting tickets to bachvirtuosifestival.org.

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

Dover Quartet Excites in Unusual Program

Dover String Quartet
Hannaford Hall, USM-Portland
Dec. 6, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Portland Ovations has done it again; brought one of the most exciting new string quartets in the country to Hannaford Hall. Word must be getting around because the intimate venue was considerably more crowded than usual for a brilliantly played program by the Dover String Quartet Thursday night.

I was late and programless for the opening bars and couldn’t quite figure out what I was hearing, as delightful as it was. Janacek? Borodin? Smetana? It was certainly Slavic, melodic in a terse sort of way, without lengthy song lines, yet highly rhythmic, full of violent emotional ups and downs. And very, very long, as if the composer couldn’t figure out how to end it, or didn’t want to.

It was, of course, the Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat Minor (Op. 30), a work that seems more advanced musically than the late Romanticism characteristic of that composer. As played by the Dover, it appeared to be an unfairly neglected masterpiece, not only overshadowed by Tchaikovsky’s symphonic works, but also so technically difficult that it is not often programmed.

The Dover Quartet seems capable of mastering anything it essays, with perfect balance, precise enunciation and excitement explosively contained. But then, they’re all Curtis graduates (I’m a prejudiced Philadelphia native), while the spectacular violist, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, is also an alumna of the Bowdoin International Music Festival. She plays the viola like a tenor version of the first violin, and the result is a new feel in well-known compositions, such as the Dvorak Quartet in A-flat Major, Opus 105, that ended the concert.

The second work on the program was a quirky yet strangely moving musical essay by Mason Bates (b. 1977) called “From Amber Frozen,” which seems to depict the process of emerging from petrified tree sap, which sometimes imprisons insects from a few million years ago. Random notes eventually coalesce into a harmonious whole which then proceeds to disintegrate again like an exploding clock, drawing a few laughs from the audience. It was played ferociously, melodically and with the perfect timing of a good stand-up comedian.

The quartet also had something new to say in its version of an old favorite, Dvorak’s last string quartet, written after he had returned to Prague from his sojourn in America. It is closer to “absolute” music than any of his earlier works in the medium, and contains no recognizable Americanisms nor much Bohemian folk influence,except for the Furiant-like second movement.

The Dover shifted the balance of the piece slightly toward the lower register, which only improved it. I’d like to hear them play Brahms. In the final rousing presto, the viola and cello not only kept up the pace but seemed to be egging things on, resulting in a long, well-deserved standing ovation.

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

Portland String Quartet Shines in Bartok

Portland String Quartet
Woodfords Congregational Church
Dec. 2, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

As played Sunday afternoon at Woodfords Congregational Church by the Portland String Quartet, the early Bartok String Quartet No. 1, Opus 7 (1909), was a perfect introduction to that composer’s chamber works—easy to follow, atmospheric, profound and even humorous.

The quartet, with new cellist Andrew Mark, sounded like it must have 50 years ago when it was pioneering the work of American composers such as Walter Piston.

The PSQ sometimes has trouble jumping into the pool, for want of a better simile—easing into the music rather than proclaiming a bold beginning.

That was certainly not the case with the Bartok, which opens with an ethereal violin canon that presents the germ of almost everything that is to come. The minor sixths and seconds are not only pure Bartok, but lend themselves to incredible transformations.

Transformations, that, like Beethoven’s, seem inevitable once they have sounded, beginning as a song of the dawn and ending with raucous fun in a schoolyard. One can hear the taunting children running away as the headmaster’s steps approach. The section is billed as an Hungarian folk dance but it seems a little more like “the rat gets the cheese” or one of the incomprehensibly droll folksongs at the end of “Mikrokosmos.”

This section is in stark corniest to the Romanic intensity of the first movement and the elegance of the allegretto. One critic has called the opening Lento a “projection of the horrors of existence”—it marks a suicidal moment caused by an unfortunate love affair— but that seems as inaudible to a modern ear as the terrors of the Verdi “Requiem.”

The program to me seems like a day at school, beginning with a walk to the schoolhouse through woods and fields, a lesson in fugue while ogling a pretty girl,  and recess; or an illustration of Paul Klee’s theory of the connection between art and music. One is supposed to hear Wagner, Max Reger and Richard Strauss in it, not to mention Debussy, but it is the first of his work to be all Bartok, through and through.

It was followed by the Mozart String Quartet in A Major (K.464), which spotlighted cellist Mark in the drum-like passages that give the quartet its nickname.

After intermission came the great Brahms String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 51, No. 2, which also has a fine cello part. It was marred a little by a too-fast allegro in the Minuet, which made it sound like Mendelssohn in “A Midsummer Night;s Dream.” Like the Bartok, the Brahms quartet concentrates nodes of harmony, like the sun shining through clouds. They need to be emphasized somehow, perhaps with a resonance that exceeds what is available in a well-tempered piano chord. It should be possible with a string quartet, but I have never heard it.

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