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Coursing Towards Twelve Tone

Quatuor Diotima, Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, String Quartets, Jacaranda February 25th, 2017—

The Diotima Quartet is an anomaly in the 21st century. Witnessing their precision, concentration and commitment in action serves as the perfect antidote to the off-the-cuff remarks, half baked ideas, reactionary reflexes, and incomplete sentences that marked and marred the beginning of 2017. Quatuor Diotima, in it’s present incarnation, includes Yun-Peng, violin I, Constance Ronsatti, violin II, Franck Chevalier, viola and Pierre Morlet Cello. Soprano Elissa Johnston joined for the Schoenberg String Quartet No. 2 and Contralto, Adrianna Manfredi, concluded with the Berg Lyric Suite. Released in 2016, the Paris based Diotima Quartet, has recorded the definitive unabridged works for string quartet works of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Saturday February 25th presented by Patrick Scott and Mark Hilt, the purveyors and masterminds behind Jacaranda, the audience experienced not just programming expertise of these two, but the perseverance of the Jacaranda duet to bring the just the right performers to proffer this extraordinary presentation.

Presto in C Major began the program and like all clarion calls it begs one to pay attention and sets the stage for the depth of what was to come. It hums along, brightens and concludes questioning, “what’s next?”. The moment feels right to move on, forward to the exploration of atonality that Schoenberg initiates before moving even further musically into the realm of Twelve Tone Technique. The String Quartet No. 2 in F Sharp minor, with soprano, op. 2 (1908) followed and if there was any doubt about where this concert was headed, it was stopped dead in it’s tracks by this amazing work whose weighty sangfroid fulfilled all expectation of Schoenberg’s ensuing path. There is a pathos in this piece that perhaps only infidelity could arouse. At the time of it’s composition Schoenberg wife, Matilde, was indulging in a summer adultery with a promising painter Richard Gerstl with whom the Zemlinsky’s, and Schoenberg all shared residences. Infidelity seemed to be an inspiration passed onto the next generation of Viennese composers as witnessed in Alban Berg’s String Quartet, op 3 which concluded the second half of Jacaranda’s program.

The pairing of soprano Johnston with Diotima could not have been more sympathetic with the score and temperament of the piece. As her voice articulated through the last two movements one could sense not only the tenor of the Stefan George’s poetry, Litanei (Litany) and Entrückung (Rapture), but the rise of Schoenberg’s compositional break with the “Brahms Fog”.

String Quartet No. 2 in F Sharp minor, op2: III. Langsam Litanei (Litany)
Quatuor Diotima, Sandrine Piau, Soprano


Tief ist die trauer die mich umdüstert,
Ein tret ich wieder, Herr! in dein haus.

Lang war die reise, matt sind die glieder,
Leer sind die schreine, voll nur die qual.

Durstende zunge darbt nach dem weine.
Hart war gestritten, starr ist mein arm.

Gönne die ruhe schwankenden schritten,
Hungrigem gaume bröckle dein brot!

Schwach ist mein atem rufend dem traume,
Hohl sind die hände, fiebernd der mund.

Leih deine kühle, lösche die brände.
Tilge das hoffen, sende das licht!

Gluten im herzen lodern noch offen,
Innerst im grunde wacht noch ein schrei.

Töte das sehnen, schliesse die wunde!
Nimm mir die liebe, gib mir dein glück!


Deep is the sadness that gloomily comes over me,
Again I step, Lord, in your house.

Long was the journey, my limbs are weary,
The shrines are empty, only anguish is full.

My thirsty tongue desires wine.
The battle was hard, my arm is stiff.

Grudge peace to my staggering steps,
for my hungry gums break your bread!

Weak is my breath, calling the dream,
my hands are hollow, my mouth fevers.

Lend your coolness, douse the fires,
rub out hope, send the light!

Fires in my heart still glow, open,
inside my heart a cry wakes.

Kill the longing, close the wound!
Take my love away, give me your joy!

The Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, op.9 by Anton Webern, whose composition is a mere fourteen bars of scoring began the second half of the Jacaranda program. Time wise not even six minutes, it is an acute example of the impact of the tutelage of Schoenberg and his influence on the development of the atonal movement and serialism associated with the Second Vienese School. Regardless of it’s transient nature the impact of these six bagatelles is imposing and Diotima’s temperament could not be more sympathetic to the disposition and execution of the work. Schoenberg, whose praise was was so hungered for by Berg saw the  Bagatelles as the epitome of taughtness and discipline in a preface he wrote for the published score: “Consider what moderation is required to express oneself so briefly. Every glance can be expanded into a poem, every sigh into a novel. But to express a novel in a single gesture, joy in a single breath—such concentration can only be present when there is a corresponding absence of self-indulgence.”

Alan Berg’s Lyric Suite, for String Quartet with voice, another impassioned work inspired again by a secret liaison concluded the concert. Prompted by his love interest with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, the married sister of the novelist Franz Werfel the Lyric Suite was written between 1925 and 1926. Opening it’s final movement, the phrase which appears in Berg’s work has a vocal text in the original: “You are my own, my own.” quoting the famous opening of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde whose connotation of doomed, impossible love makes clear he intent, passion and motivation for the fabric of the piece. Andrew Clements writes for the Guardian “Whether Berg ever intended the Lyric Suite to be performed with the text of the Largo Desolato movement sung by a soprano seems doubtful”., and goes on to site the Diotima’s 2011 recording featuring Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto. In keeping with the recording’s discernment, the performance at Jacaranda featured contralto Adrianna Manfredi whose performance resonated with a deep conviction.

Lyric Suite, for String Quartet, version with voice, Largo desolato. “De Profundis Clamavi”
Quatuor Diotima, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Contralto 


Saturday, March 25th Jacaranda’s program will again challenge and engage the listener with a rare performance of the complete Transcendental Etudes by Franz Liszt, performed by Steven Vanhauwaert, piano and French horn virtuoso Allen Fogle will perform a rare horn solo – from “From the Canyons to the Stars.”

Also catch Elissa Johnston performing with the Master Chorale in Stravinsky’s Les Noces (The Wedding) coming Sunday March 26th.






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