Family connections abound in double quartet concert at Rockport Festival

June 10, 2017 at 12:19 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

The Jupiter String Quartet performed Friday night at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival.

The Jupiter String Quartet performed Friday night at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival.

Felix Mendelssohn’s gifts were apparent from an early age. While still in his teens he managed to craft a number of masterpieces. One of them, the Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20, is a marvel of nineteenth-century chamber music, so much so that some historians place Mendelssohn’s youthful abilities above those of other child prodigies, including Mozart. 

Performances of the Octet are not rare occasions. But like all masterworks, each presentation invites new listening as audiences are curious to hear how ensembles will handle its complex textures and buoyant energy.

The work was the main event Friday night at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, where the Jasper and Jupiter String Quartets paired up in a joint recital as part of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival.

The two ensembles share family connections. Sisters Megan (violin) and Liz Freivogel (viola) perform with the Jupiter Quartet, and their brother J is first violinist with the Jasper Quartet. J’s wife, the cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel, also performs with the Jaspers.

Connections also stretch into the musical realm, and together both ensembles played with a rich tonal blend, driving momentum where appropriate, and elegant phrasing that brought out the multiple dimensions of Mendelssohn’s score.

Both quartets found the roiling energy of the first movement, taking care to navigate Mendelssohn’s dense, orchestral-like textures. Inner voices rolled like waves, and the development section took on a tinge of melancholy.

The musicians brought tender lyricism to the second movement, and in the third the players rendered the nimble phrases with intimacy and grace. The fugal section that opened the finale movement sounded with fury as the lines spread like a web to encompass the full ensemble.

The other big draw on the program was Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, which the Jupiter Quartet played with fierce commitment.

Composed between 1953 and 1954, the single-movement work reflects the influence of Bartók’s Third and Fourth String Quartets. The piece also bears a subtitle, Métamorphoses Nocturnes, and the Jupiter musicians found the deep mystery implied by that phrase. 

That was apparent in the opening passage, where chromatic runs and bristly motives were woven together like threads in a tapestry. Slow sections that appeared later in the piece had haunting glow. In one phrase, violinist Megan Freivogel floated a silvery line over whispering viola chords performed by her sister.

A four-note motive runs through the seventeen sections of this piece, and one of its incarnations, heard towards the end of the work, is particularly affecting. There, the motive transformed into a searching melody that unfolded in the middle and lower registers of the ensemble.

Elsewhere, the agitated sections had a rough Bartókian edge, and a schmaltzy waltz that appeared halfway through, which brought a touch of humor to a robust reading.=

Jasper Quartet

Jasper Quartet

Haydn’s quartets sometimes make for bland  and underrehearsed curtain raisers, but Friday night’s performance of the String Quartet in F major, Op. 77, No. 2 by the Jasper Quartet was remarkable for its precision and depth of expression.

The ensemble found radiant warmth in the first movement’s themes. As in the Mendelssohn, textures were clean and articulation fluid. Cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel brought out her rich-toned countermelodies in the repeat of the exposition. The players, too, traded their running lines in the transitional passages with dexterity.

The minuet had a rustic verve as the musicians shaded their phrases with gentle rubato touches, and in the third movement, violin and cello lines spun silky-toned lines around each other. The finale had equal parts feathery delicacy and propulsive drive. This was Haydn to savor, the performance a true conversation among friends, or, more accurately, family.

The next event of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival will feature pianist Russell Sherman in an all-Beethoven program 8 p.m. Saturday at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. rockportmusic.org

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