Beethoven played with dash and distinction
The popularity of Beethoven with audiences 200 years after he flourished as a composer is due in part to his easily followed harmonic language. The chords that he used are little different from the harmonies of rock music. The way he manipulated them, intertwining motifs and shifts of key, are another matter and where the genius emerges.
His String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 is one of his great delights, full of majesty, muscle and surprise.
The Attacca String Quartet gave a brilliant, detailed performance of the piece Saturday night, June 21, for the Charleston Chamber Music Society’s concert for FestivAll at Christ Church United Methodist.
The ensemble made the opening movement flow seamlessly, morphing from delicate wisps of melody to glowing double-stopped harmonies to sweeping motion.
The complex variations of the slow movement were paced leisurely, letting the inner details of mingling lines emerge with clarity. Violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga played the ornamental imitations of the second variation with intimately conversant tone.
The third movement, Scherzando vivace, opened with crisp jagged rhythms in an ascending figure from cellist Andrew Yee that were answered inversely by violist Luke Fleming. The bouncing dance that evolved from those figures had proportion and wit. The Trio (the central section of a scherzo) blazed with rhythmic drive and stunningly coordinated articulations.
The hurtling finale brimmed with insight, energy and, lastly, lyricism in the surprising melodic and metrical shift at the end.
The ensemble has been playing all 68 of Haydn’s string quartets in concerts in New York and Canada. Its performance of Haydn’s String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 64, no. 6 delivered the penetration and meaning one would expect from such a close association with a composer’s works. The group’s accents and rhythm were pure. Haydn’s jocular turns of phrase and rhythmic jokes gained from the ensemble’s light comedic touch, especially in the folk-song styling in the trio of the minuet and the faster and faster tumult of the end of the rondo.
The quartet shaped delicately two Songs without Words by the Mendelssohns, Felix and his sister Fanny. Fanny’s Op. 8, no. 2, arranged by Yee, was a stormy little miniature.
Fleming’s transcription of Felix’s Andante tranquillo from the Organ Sonata, Op. 65, No. 3 let Yee show how beautiful a single long-held note on the cello can be.
The crowd of about 200 gave the group an extended ovation. The Attacca played John Adams’ “Toot Nipple,” all fire and dash, as an encore.