The Music at Emory Series presented a concert featuring the in-residence Vega String Quartet playing a varied program, including a world premiere. The program began with Haydn's String quartet in D major performed by the Vegans. This piece is dominated by the lovely second movement that brought out some sweet and darker sounds from the quartet. Written in the 1790's, it shows that Hayden was beginning to develop melodies with longer lines,creating a kind of foreshadowing of romanticism. AMC was a bit concerned during the first movement Allegretto as played here was teetering on the brink of a mini-violin concerto with string trio accompaniment. It might be due to the composition itself, which gave the highest notes to the first violin with the remainder of the instruments playing in lower registers. Or is could have been the result of a conscious decision of the performers to perform with this emphasis. Or, of course, it could have been both. For AMC it was a bit distracting.
This was followed by the world premiere of Paul Salerni' String quartet 1.5. (Scroll down to see AMC's interview with Mr. Salerni concerning this piece.) This is a wonderful piece of music with not-too-overpowering dissonances of the first movement and its repeated bowed chords that were slightly reminiscent of "The Rite of Spring." The second movement, played without break from the first movement, was inspired by an Irish gig. It totally worked- it was a jig with a classical accent, but a gig none the less. The fourth movement titled "Intermezzo" is a gorgeous piece of latter-day romanticism. It really caught AMC's attention with its lush sounds. This is one of those short moments that could easily be rescored for a larger chamber orchestra (or even full orchestra) and a successful stand-alone piece. The final movement recapitulates the main themes of the previous five. This is a wonderful work that deserves to be heard again and again. It does not have the easy humor of some of Mr. Salerni's other works, but its seriousness is profound and its soulfulness were touching.
The next piece was Salerni's "Regimen Sanitaus Salerni" composed in 2002. It is a series of seven songs that were based on the a book of similar title dating from 1066 AD. The lyrics are humorous and even banal, but always fun when put in a modern context. The soprano soloist was Stephanie Adrian, who was able to bring out the playfulness in the work. Salerni's music provided a suitable platform the the lyrics. For example, when the soprano is reciting recommendations for treating seasickness, Salerni captured a rolling sea quite nicely. The work requires the soloist to sing lyrics quite quickly, and is some instances, quite loudly. It all worked quite nicely and the piece is a bon mot in spirit and thoroughly enjoyable.
The final work was a transcription of Darius Milhaud's "The Creation of the World" for string quartet and piano. The program gave no hint as to who might have done the transcription. The piano soloist was Elenda Cholakova. While the piece was nicely played here, this arrangement lacked the edge of the origina. The lack of instrumental color, such as Milhaud's use of the saxophone in the original, made this performance sound flat. Milhaud was greatly influenced by jazz, but in this arrangement, the hard edge of that style was discarded in favor of less complex sounds. Finally, too many passages sounded like warmed-over Gershwin (not one of AMC's favorites). AMC's advice- stick to the original!