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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Concert Review: Golden State Warriors

The Carnegie Hall debut of the Calidore String Quartet
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jeffrey Myers, Jeremy Berry, Estelle Choi and Ryan Meehan: the Calidore String Quartet.
Photo from the group's official website,
The arrival of a string quartet for its first performance at Carnegie Hall--here at the intimate upstairs Weill Recital Hall--is a momentous occasion, especially if that quartet is a group of talented and ambitious musicians. So it was on Tuesday night when the California-based Calidore String Quartet played a concert of works by Mozart, Hindemith and Mendelssohn at its first concert on W. 57th St.

Formed in Los Angeles where its members went to conservatory, the Calidore Quartet takes its name from its home state, punning on the "Cali" in California and "d'or," a French transliteration of the "Golden State." The players: violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry and cellist Estelle Choi have that onstage combination of intimacy and professionalism that  characterize the best chamber musicians.

The concert opened with the Mozart String Quartet No. 21 in D Major , which is the first of the three "Prussian" Quartets, the last that Mozart wrote. Intended as as a set of six, these works were commissioned by the Prussian emperor and enthusiastic cellist Frederick The Great was left incomplete due to the composer's death. As a result, the work includes a particularly elaborate and daunting cello part, a challenge both to His Majesty and Ms. Choi.

This was a genial performance of this four-movement quartet, with Ms. Choi's cello and Mr. Myers' violin engaging in friendly dialogue. Mr. Meehan and Mr. Berry took the backseat, providing rhythmic accompaniment for their fellow players although Mozart does allow the viola to speak for itself from time to time. Mozart's chamber music demands the last degree of precision from those who take it on, and this performance got the concert off to a flying start.

Hindemith's Quartet No. 4 is a different matter altogether. Mr. Meehan took a moment to explain how this work was written in response to the horrors of the First World War. It opened with an eerie fugue in the low voices of the players, a sort of muttering counterpoint that built and built, eventually exploding in fury. In the fast second movement, Hindemith's preference for unison voicing of his players makes this music feel rigid and rock-ribbed,but the players  did their utmost to emphasize its weight. di

The third movement is slow and eerie, with mutes on all the strings to create the aftermath of the battle, and the stark landscape of the world ravaged by war. The fourth was fast again, with taut rhythms and slamming, dissonant chords. The work ended with a sort of capering finale, a return to dance music as if to show the beauties of the landscapes destroyed by the idiocy of warfare.

The second half featured Felix Mendelssohn's F minor Quartet, written in the composer's grief for the death of his sister Fanny. The Caldore Quartet put their shoulders into the meaning of the composer's psychological crisis, with the instruments crying, sobbing or else wandering numbly from key to key as if in shock. This was a powerful performance, with the players putting themselves deep into the psychology of the work. As a palate cleanser, the encore was the chirping finale from Haydn's "Bird" Quartet, the perfect digestiv after this heavy but nourishing meal.

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