The Kucharsky Quartet
Valeria Kucharsky Violin
Julia Clare Violin
Ursula John Viola
Nicola Tait Baxter ‘Cello
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartet in D Major, Op 64 No.5 Hob III:63 (1790)
Minuetto – Allegretto
Finale – Vivace
Haydn held the post of Kapellmeister to the Esterházy court at Eszterháza Castle for over 30 years. By this stage in his life, Haydn was acknowledged as a highly productive, internationally successful and famous composer. His six String Quartets Op.64 were the final ones written at Esterháza. He dedicated the “Lark” to Johann Tost, who had been a violinist in Haydn’s court orchestra there.
The “Lark” is probably the most popular of all of Haydn’s String Quartets. It had two nicknames at the time of its debut performances, “Hornpipe”, which was associated with the continually energetic, highly-charged last movement, and “Lark” – which is said to come from the gently-soaring and beautifully lyrical melody in the first violin at the opening of the first movement. The effect is exaggerated as the lower three parts have a cheeky staccato passage, set firmly at ground level, which competes with it. That theme reiterates itself in several forms throughout the movement, with subtle variation as would be apparent in bird song, and not so typical of the composing restraints of Haydn’s era. He was a true master of stepping outside the box.
The second movement, Adagio cantabile, is a kind of meditation or aria. It evolves in a leisurely fashion, every note feeling loved and caressed. The minor key middle section explores a new and darker world of colour. The return to the major key includes all kinds of embellishments, and is quasi-improvisatory in idiom.
The third movement – a Minuet and Trio – is a traditional dance: the Minuet is rustically heavy in feeling, whereas the Trio moves to the minor key, filled with busy scalic detail.
The Finale, set in the traditional ternary (ABA) form, is often thought to be the prime reason for this quartet’s popularity. Its continual, perpetual energy, driving forward and always upward shows Haydn’s true mastery of the quartet genre.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
String Quartet in G Minor, Op 10 (1892-3)
Animee et très decide
Assez vif et bien rythmé
Andantino, doucement expressif
Très modéré – En animant peu à peu – Très mouvementé et avec passion
“It is music alone that has the power to evoke imaginary scenes at will, to conjure the intangible world of fantasies secretly shrouded within the mysterious poetry of the night, the thousand indistinguishable noises made by moonbeams caressing the leaves.” (Claude Debussy, 1903)
Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor is an early work from the composer written before Prelude à l’apres midi d’un Faune, the piece which brought him fame and recognition as a composer. Even so, this earlier string quartet is a structurally, harmonically and rhythmically innovative masterpiece in cyclic form. It was premiered on December 29, 1893 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris with the prestigious Ysaÿe Quartet, to whom the work is dedicated.
None of the movements of this piece is in classical form, however the first movement is an echo of the Sonata form. The main theme is just 4 bars long, but provides all the thematic material for the rest of the movement. As the movement progresses, Debussy develops this material in many different ways, leading ultimately to a triumphal cello solo developing into a dialogue with the first violin, which the second violin and viola take up in a beautiful duet
Pizzicato is a striking characteristic of the unconventional Scherzo that follows. Cast in the parallel major key of G, it features a sudden key change to E flat, a recurring ostinato figure and the unusual time-signature of 15/8 –perhaps the first time this was ever used in Classical music – and a jazzy Coda.
The quartet’s main theme reappears most dramatically altered in the contemplative Andantino, featuring muted soliloquies by the viola and cello in the exotically distant key of D flat major. A decadently sensuous climax follows with hints of Pelléas et Mélisande, on which Debussy was working concurrently.
During the final movement, Debussy makes some concessions to tradition as the main theme appears in inversion, imitation and the slightest hint of fugato. A remarkably chromatic fugue, announced by the cello carries us forwards to the concluding section, in which Debussy introduces a fresh new tune in endless counterpoints now intertwined with the main theme, producing an almost orchestral texture.
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)
String Quartet No.2 in D Major (1881)
Scherzo – Allegro
Notturno – Andante
Finale: Andante – Vivace
Borodin’s second string quartet in D major of 1881 flaunts his effortless style of string writing with freshness and vitality. His two numbered string quartets date from the last fifteen years of his life and this particularly charming work may well have been intended as an anniversary gift to his wife.
The first movement (Allegro – Moderato) begins immediately with a most buoyant and wistful tune from Borodin’s own instrument, the cello, passing swiftly on to the violin and almost leading us by the hand throughout the movement with such a comforting and melodic charm.
The second movement (Scherzo – Allegro) is reminiscent of a “fairground fantasy” as we hear its one-in-a-bar “spinning” music in the opening – is this a carousel? He contrasts it cleverly with the swooping and rocking melody that develops. This latter theme gained an unexpected afterlife when given the famous lyrics ‘Baubles, bangles and beads’ in Robert Wright and George Forrest’s 1953 musical Kismet, set in the Persia of the Arabian Nights. The movement always sparkles and brings new jewels at every turn.
The 3rd movement is his most famous Nocturne or Notturno (Andante). For any listener or performer this is such an attractive and warm, heartfelt movement. Its languishing cello melody over rocking, syncopated accompaniment really returns us to the expressive world of the first movement. The cello’s melodic and conversational whisperings with the first violin show warmth and a familiar touch of oriental style which pulses through much of Borodin’s music in Prince Igor, the Polovtsian Dances and the second Symphony.
In the final 4th movement (Andante – Vivace) Borodin again cleverly sets a magical scene for us, possibly thewoven together threads of a tale between the low voice of a grandfather with his grandchildren’s delightful voices! The two motifs of the introduction are then cleverly combined into the boisterous and musical counterpoint which follows in the rest of the movement.
This is a real gem of a piece which certainly has to be as much fun to listen to as to perform!
Nicola Tait Baxter
Alexander Piazzola (1921-1992)
Libertango (1974) arr. Bojana Jovanovic
Astor Piazzolla 1921-92 was an Argentine composer and Bandonean (accordion) player.
Piazzola was primarily a tango composer who revolutionised the style, incorporating elements from both jazz and classical music. This was known as “Neuvo Tango.” Libertango was composed in 1974 and performed the same year. Its title, “liberty and tango” symbolises Piazzolla’s break from the classical tango form to the new Neuvo Tango. Originally an instrumental piece, this popular work now boasts over 500 separate releases including Grace Jones’ “I’ve seen that face before” and a version by Yo-Yo Ma recorded for his album of Piazzolla’s music “Soul of the Tango”.
Spicy rhythms, a catchy melody and harmonies reminiscent of Piazzolla’s own instrument, the Bandonean adds Argentine folk elements to this well-loved piece. You can listen out for slaps, dirty glissandos, squeaks and over indulged vibrato!
There are many arrangements for string quartet, but this version by Bojana Jovanovic is one we particularly enjoy playing. Happy Birthday Astor Piazzola!
To find out more, or to contact the Quartet, please visit their website at www.kucharskyquartet.com