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Calidore String Quartet Capers at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Jun 25th, 2017

The Calidore Quartet with Alan Kay

The final concert of the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle concluded its Summer Series concert with the Calidore String Quartet at Bard’s Olin Hall. They opened with String Quartet in F major, Op. 96, by Antonnin Dvořák, nick-named “American” because it was the first quartet Dvořák wrote in America and it was influenced by American Blues. Composed in Spillville, Iowa, in 1893 where Dvořák spent a happy summer vacation in a predominantly Czech town, the quartet was sketched feverishly in a rush of inspiration over three days with final draft completed 13 days later.

The opening, lively Allegro movement had all four instruments conversing in amiable small-town spirit, as if they were sitting and rocking on a porch. Since Dvořák was a viola player, he made sure the viola’s role, ably played by Jeremy Berry, in this balanced Ping-Pong confab was of equal input. The gorgeous following Lento showcases the first violin, played with stunning eloquence and moving pathos by Jeffrey Meyers. This alone was worth attending the concert. The melodically accented third and seventh note in minor scale carries a remarkably soulful melancholy. The following upbeat Molto vivace movement referenced tunes by local birds, whose songs were new to Dvořák’s ear. These sprightly melodies turn the instruments into birds singing at dawn. The rousing finale, so spirited and well-balanced, freighted an intoxicating synthesis.

Next was Paul Hindemith’s String Quartet No. 4, Op. 22. I normally would not be attracted to a Hindemith piece, yet I must say that the performance of this string quartet changed my mind about Hindemith. While a melancholy dirge on the death and devastation of World War I, it was dramatic, full of unusual pacing and gripping tension that contains a strong viola line. This string quartet appears on the Calidore String Quartet’s latest album Serenade, which I would recommend for its unusual selections by these excellent young performers. I thought the third movement of the five movements to be most remarkable. At the beginning of this movement Estelle Choi on cello, whose pizzicato in the Dvořák was somewhat reticent, blazed with such resonant passion that she evoked startling shock; the later-half of this movement featured the arresting tone of Ryan Meehan on second violin. The engaging and swirling fourth movement sounded as if all instruments were questioning why this war had happened. The concluding coda was a short sardonic postscript delivering vehement sting. This was a powerful and passionate piece that I would like to hear once more.

After happy, then sad musical musings, the concert moved to another concert-hall favorite: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major, K.581. Clarinetist Alan Kay joined them in this capering, melodic delight. Kay displayed excellent technique and sensitive modulation throughout his performance. Mozart only took an interest in the clarinet when he heard Anton Stadler perform on the basset clarinet, which is essentially an alto clarinet in G with a downward extension of four semitones (an octave below what is currently played today, which would have resulted in a less shrill and more mellow sound). Kay interacted so well with the quartet that he became the Pied Piper who brought the audience to its feet, demanding three bows.    

A video of The Calidore String Quartet playing Caroline Shaw's Entr'acte appears below.