The New Season: Capriccio Baroque, The Cramer Quartet

The fall season has truly begun, and while I usually write about the New York scene, I can think of no better way of resuming this blog than by turning my attention to another metropolis for the series opener of the Capriccio Baroque series in DC, which took place on September 15. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that the series is the sponsor for this blog and that the soloist was the harpsichordist Rebecca Pechefsky, whom I also know as my wife.

The program featured two large works: the Suite in E-flat Major by  J. S. Bach’s star pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs and the Olympian Huitième Ordre by François Couperin, whose 350th birthday we celebrate this year. (She has recorded the Krebs suite on her CD Johann Ludwig Krebs @ 300 and recently made a video of the Couperin, both under the aegis of my label, Quill Classics.) Adding a Spanish dessert to the German and French main courses were three sonatas by Padre Antonio Soler, whose fiery music reminds us that this particular monk was very much a creature of flesh and blood. Rebecca found a  Franco-Spanish piece to offer as an encore: Couperin’s sprightly “L’Espagnolette” from the Troisième Ordre. I hope it won’t be too unseemly for me to comment that the performance was exquisite and, to judge by the audience’s applause, much appreciated.

The harpsichord was a singing double-manual French model built by William Dowd in 1972, the house instrument. Because September 15 also marked the birthday of Bruno Walter (who also played harpsichord on occasion)—about whom Rebecca and I wrote a biography—our host Carolyn Winter suggested we raise a glass in memory of the great conductor. Now you might ask, “A glass of what?” Let’s just say there was quite a selection. As one has come to expect from this series, the tables were full of delicious sweet treats for the post-concert reception, and copious, varied spirits, supplied by our other host, Don Winkler, were present to add to the evening’s intoxicating atmosphere.

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Two days later, on September 17 in the Church of the Transfiguration in New York City, I heard what appeared to be the official debut of a new period-instrument string quartet, The Cramer Quartet (named after the 18th-century violinist Wilhelm Cramer), whose members were the violinists Jessica Park and Alana Youssefian, violist Stephen Goist, and cellist Shirley Hunt. Although I usually focus on early keyboards in this blog, the birth of a new ensemble in my home town seemed a good reason to expand my field of vision.

The all-Haydn program gave us a taste of three different styles from that seminal master of the string quartet. The witty Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 2, has the nickname “The Joke” largely because of the sudden stopping and restarting and at the end of the finale, which keeps the listener wondering whether the piece has ended abruptly or will decide to continue—the kind of joke Haydn’s pupil Beethoven loved to play on his listeners. A more somber work followed, the Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No. 5. Its finale showed off Haydn’s rich contrapuntal skill with a fugue developing a subject and its countersubject. The final piece, the late Quartet in G Major, Op. 76, No. 5, brought us back to the brighter side of the enlightenment, though its last movement began startlingly in a minor key and continued in that tenebrous vein until the very end, when the mood shifted gears for a carefree coda in the major.

The weather—sweltering, with high humidity—was about as bad as you could get for gut strings, and the musicians were obliged to tune throughout between pieces. But during the actual movements, the intonation held, and the sweet sound of the ensemble made one  forget any meteorological interference. I look forward to hearing more from this newborn quartet.

 

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