Classical Quartets from a trio of teenagers

Windermere String Quartet

Windermere String Quartet: Rona Goldensher, Elizabeth Loewen Andrews, Anthony Rapoport, Laura Jones, (photos: cloud4studios)

Windermere String Quartet (“WSQ”), an ensemble playing classical repertoire on period instruments, offered a remarkable concert this afternoon.   WSQ are comprised of Rona Goldensher– violin, Elizabeth Loewen Andrews– violin, Anthony Rapoport– viola, and Laura Jones– cello.

It’s such a simple idea, but one I am fairly certain has never been done before: assembling a trio of string quartets composed by seventeen year olds.  You may wonder whether this would even be worth hearing, let alone why this would be interesting.  Have no fear, all three were masterworks.

Start with Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806-1826), who composed three string quartets in his short life, including his excellent Quartet #2 in A (1823), written at the age of 17.  It turns out Mozart and Schubert also wrote quartets at the age of 17: which bracket Arriaga on the programme.  No wonder the concert has the title “Young Blood.”

In passing, I was thoroughly bemused by the parallels.

  • As I left the concert I watched twilight, the transition from day to night
  • I pondered maturation, when a child becomes adult (whatever that means).
  • The division of rep between modern and period instruments is just as sketchy. While orchestras comprised of modern instruments lay claim to everything, and early music is regularly played on period instruments, we’re seeing incursions of historically informed performance into later periods than ever (e.g. Opera Atelier’s presentation of Der Freischütz using Tafelmusik orchestra last month).

Anthony Rapoport, viola in WSQ, introduced each item.  In passing Rapoport mused upon the Toronto Transit Commission’s practice of using classical music to stop teens from loitering in their stations.  What he whimsically called “weaponizing Mozart” was a terrific segue into a discussion of three young composers.

But these young men were highly accomplished.  While none of the trio would live very long, Arriaga’s passing was especially poignant, considering the excellence of what we heard.  While it’s a bit simplistic to compare them to one another, Arriaga is not out of his depth between these two giants.

We began with Mozart’s K173 from 1773.  This was the first time I’d heard Windermere in person, although I did review their debut CD earlier this year.  At that time I remarked that I was surprised at how simplistic the works seem when ironed out through the use of modern instruments, how much personality original instruments bring to the table, and how much more complex these works sound as a result.  Yes it’s true that they need to tune up between movements, that on occasion a note may be off pitch, just as we’d encounter from an opera singer.  I think the comparison is apt, because these instruments are larger than life.

Arriaga was for me the highlight, because he’s new to me.  The poignant subtext –that he died of TB at the age of 20, leaving only a few works such as this quartet—only magnifies his achievement.    All four movements are wonderful, although the second movement theme and variations is like a jewel.  Among the variations, one puts the viola (Rapoport) in the spotlight, while another presages the pizzicato third movement of Tchaikowsky’s Fourth Symphony.  This doesn’t sound like the work of an apprentice.

We closed with Schubert’s D112 B-flat quarter from 1814.  By this time I was so accustomed to the WSQ sound that I no longer noticed anything jarring, but only euphony.  I wondered if that was possibly because they were playing this piece a different way, with less evident edginess, and more native sweetness; or possibly because the work sits more comfortably on the violin / viola /cello?

It’s only in retrospect –aka writing a review—that I recall that the three composers were teenagers.  No one shows immaturity, all three compositions satisfy.

I am looking forward to seeing what WSQ do next, both in the recording studio and in concert.   They return March 3rd 2013 with a program of quintets.    Further information

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