More dates

Azumi Quartet at Glebe Town Hall

This event has passed Get tickets

Event description

Azumi Quartet Presents Haydn and Brahms!

First Violin: Vera Marcu

Second Violin: Jennifer Taylor

Viola: Andrea Ng

Cello: Steve Meyer

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 76, No. 4 (“Sunrise”)

The B-flat major Quartet exudes the composer’s supreme confidence and originality: in one of the greatest openings in chamber music, the lovely first violin melody rises out of a chord sustained by the three lower instruments in a wonderful sunrise effect that earned the Quartet its nickname. Several commentators have remarked on the feeling of growth that this idea initiates in the movement. The continuation of the main theme brings great contrast with an energetic idea that fosters all the fiery passages in the movement, including the remarkable fortissimo bursts that close the exposition and recapitulation. The second theme uses the “sunrise” idea of the opening but in a kind of mirror image—the cello plays a winding descent as the others sustain the chord. Throughout the movement one hears the kind of mastery that so impressed Beethoven as he began writing string quartets with his Opus 18 series.

Haydn’s Adagio somberly explores the possibilities of its first five notes. For a major-mode movement, this is one of the most dark-hued in the repertoire and seems to create a direct link with the poetic slow movements of Beethoven’s later quartets. Delicate filigree erupts not merrily but poignantly and the great downward leaps at the ends of sections seem to release but not totally relieve built-up tension. The second half, which begins like the opening, exaggerates these qualities with more filigree and wider plunges.

For his fast Menuetto Haydn takes a little repeated two-note slur and fashions two entire sections from it. The second much longer section includes a varied return to the first, signaled by the little repeated slur in the cello—a nice bit of humor. Partway through this return, the focus again shifts briefly to the cello, soon followed by the viola. The Menuetto ends with another subtle touch of humor as twice the upward arpeggio fails to resolve in its own register. The contrasting trio evokes a truly rustic atmosphere with its folklike drones in the manner of a musette or bagpipes.

The finale is a little masterpiece based on what some suspect is an English folk tune heard on his travels, but which he treats to sophisticated bits of contrapuntal and rhythmic manipulations. The matching first and third sections surround a no less jolly minor-mode section that contains several impish surprises. Following the return of the opening section Haydn takes us on an extended whirlwind ride, suddenly picking up speed only to shift to yet a higher speed for a virtuosic thrill.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

String Quartet in C minor, Op 51 No 1

None of Brahms’s large-scale works is more organically unified than the C minor Quartet Op 51 No 1. Not only does each idea grow with unerring logic out of the last, in a process of continual development, but the main subject of each movement clearly arises out of the same germ. The dramatic motif hurled forth by all four players at the start of the finale appears to set out in the key—F minor—of the preceding movement, while the rise and fall of its melodic shape echoes the opening movement’s main theme. Moreover, the stepwise progression of the finale’s initial notes recalls the gentle horn-call with which the three lower instruments preface the first violin’s theme at the start of the slow movement.

For all their musical richness, it is possible to feel that the orchestrally inclined outer movements are less successful in terms of quartet writing than the two middle movements, both of which are perfect and intimate miniatures. From a harmonic point of view, however, the first movement shows Brahms’s style at its boldest. The tense opening theme, with its pulsating accompaniment on viola and cello, is followed immediately by a more lyrical idea that modulates remarkably widely for so early in the piece. (This was a passage much admired by Schoenberg, who cited it in an essay entitled ‘Brahms the Progressive’.) No less striking is the manner in which Brahms treats the start of the recapitulation, much later in the movement, allowing the main theme to enter before the home key has been re-established. The seamless join is one that effectively prolongs the tension of the preceding development section.

The horn-call that inaugurates the slow movement is woven into the accompaniment of the warmly expressive main theme itself. The theme is handed over from violin to cello for a counterstatement, as though it were to form the basis of a set of variations; but there is no such quasi-repeat for the melody’s second half, which instead gives way to the halting phrases of a more pleading middle section. When the original melody returns it does so in an elaborately ornamented form, as if to confirm the variation background of the movement’s beginning.

If the ‘panting’ phrases that set the F minor third movement in motion offer a distant memory of the finale from Beethoven’s quartet in the same key Op 95, its second theme—a mellifluous, ‘swaying’ duet for viola and first violin—is as thoroughly Brahmsian as could be imagined. The trio section in the major has its theme accompanied by a curious ‘croaking’ sound from the second violin. The effect is produced by rapidly alternating the same pitch between adjacent ‘open’ and ‘stopped’ strings—an idea Brahms will have learned not from Beethoven, but from Haydn, whose quartets he deeply admired. Haydn’s most famous example of this bariolage technique, as it is called, occurs in the finale of his D major Quartet Op 50 No 6, where its use has lent the work as a whole the nickname of the ‘Frog’.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2008

Powered by

The humane choice for tickets Humanitix donates 100% of profits from booking fees to children’s charities

Refund policy

No refunds