CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Concerts of art music that tie everything together in one theme are popular with ensembles. They, and their audiences, can find connections among diverse compositions.
Such was the case with "Heart and Soul," the Montclaire String Quartet's concert of music by Romantic composers, meaning from the era from the early 19th century to the mid-20th centuries, at the Erma Byrd Gallery at the University of Charleston on Sunday afternoon.
Dvorak's String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 51 is perfect musical romanticism, strongly nationalistic and loaded of folk-like inflection.
The opening movement was warmly colored and well sketched formally. The famous "Dumka" started with first violinist Amelia Chan and violist Bernard Di Gregorio conversing in flowing melody. The return of that section added second violinist Anton Shelepov to the exchange. The scherzo, which doesn't so much stop as melt into the returns of the first section, bounced pertly.
The "Romanza" had admirable ensemble playing; the finale had wit and some nice counterpoint in the development.
Rachmaninov is still viewed, if wrongly, as a composer who stolidly wrote Romantic music when the world had turned to Modernism. His String Quartet No. 1 is so early a work -- he was 16 when he wrote it -- that it is hard to hear the mature composer, if easy to hear Borodin or others.
Montclaire made it sound sighingly Russian from Chan's sweet solo in the Romance to cellist Andrea Di Gregorio's playing in the trio of the scherzo.
Barber's String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11 is famous for the Adagio for Strings that was extracted from it by the composer. By itself, that movement is as romantic, in many definitions of the word, as the 20th century offered.
But the piece is not Romantic, and Barber was never as conservative as the romantic tag suggests.
The opening fast movement seems to unhinge harmonically while its motifs pile up in webs of counterpoint. The noted Adagio supplies a counterweight of serenity, but that is wiped away by the short, idea-crammed finale that draws the opening movement's motifs back in a disorienting whirlwind.
Montclaire played steadily. The quiet chords after the climax of the Adagio were striking with no vibrato. The first movement and finale were the keys to the piece though, rhythmically strong and texturally sure.
The close of the finale remains one of the great endings in the quartet literature.No matter that most people think that applies to the Adagio.