Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Pleasant Sunday...

This past Sunday was a beautiful sunny day in Atlanta.  It was very welcome after a week's worth of cold, dreary, rainy weather.  The glorious weather made the setting for the Peachtree String quartet's Winter Concert all the more enjoyable.  It was held at the Garden Hills Recreation Center, which is located in a bucolic neighborhood park in Atlanta, the kind of park that Atlanta does so well.  The Recreation Center has many windows so the sunshine lit up the space and rustling leaves added a nice movement.

The Peachtree String Quartet is made up of musicians from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: Christopher Pulgram, violin; John Meisner, violin; Yang-Yoon Kim, viola; and Karen Freer, cello.

The first piece was by Franz Joseph Haydn- his String Quartet in D Major, Op 76.  This a pleasant, melodic, almost light piece.  It would be difficult to be offended by it- it is just the right piece to play on a sunny mid-winter day in Atlanta.  The only thing that would have made it more enjoyable would have been a cup of tea and a cookie.  The players were wonderful, but there did seem to be a volume bias in favor of the viola and cello.  AMC suspects that it was due to the slope of the ceiling in the Center, rather than inattention by Ms. Kim or Ms. Freer.

The second piece was the exquisite (and short) Shostakovich String quartet No 7.  This piece was written in memory of his first wife who died six years earlier.  This is a good lesson in not attempting to interpret the music by conjuring what one assumes was going on in the composer's head.  It cannot be said to be sad music, program annotator Ken Meltzer described the second movie as "eerie" and there were a few Shostakovich outbursts in the music also.  But what is not is what we have come to expect as music played "in memoriam."  AMC suspects the composer was telling us that the music as a whole was dedicated to his wife, rather than being an attempt to describe her or to mourn for her.  But if he was trying to describe her, she, like all of us, could be volatile and inscrutable.  The Peachtree group played wonderfully.  Their technical expertise was appreciated.

The last piece was the Dvorak "Slavonic: String Quartet No 10.  It's difficult not to like Dvorak- his music is usually sunny and bright, in spite of the tremendous losses he suffered in his life.  Dvorak was a great fan of Brahms, who mentored him in his career.  A difference between the two composers is that Dvorak relied heavily on Czech folk music in his writings, where Brahms did not.  Both tended to be conservative in their compositional structures, with Brahms favoring thicker, darker orchestration.  Dvorak also included some Ukraine folk music themes in the second movement.  The Peachtree SQ again performed in a way that made the concert a perfect way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

AMC has a few less important observations.  It was nice to see patrons walking from the neighborhood to the concert.  But AMC was a bit taken aback by the age and whiteness of the crowd. AMC's guess is that the neighborhood is predominantly white (AMC did not verify this) but AMC would have expected a few more people with more melanin in their hair and skin.  This is certainly not the Peachtree-ers issues but an issue for all lovers of great Western Art Music.

It's always good to see Ken Meltzer's program notes- he captures what he needs to in a few judicious words.

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