Aris Quartett
Haydn / Schubert

Kirche St.Peter, Zurich, 2022-05-15

0.5-star rating

2022-05-21 — Original posting


Aris Quartett (© Sophie Wolter)
Aris Quartett (© Sophie Wolter)

Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeKirche St.Peter in Zurich, 2022-05-15 17:00h
Series / TitleNeue Konzertreihe Zürich, Streichquartette in der Kirche St.Peter
OrganizerHochuli Konzert AG
Reviews from related eventsConcerts at Kirche St.Peter, Zurich
Concerts in this Series, in particular:
Aris Quartett — Zurich, St.Peter, 2018-10-28

The Artists

The first concert in the 2022 series of string quartet recitals in Zurich’s St.Peter Church, organized by Hochuli Konzert AG featured the Aris Quartett, with the following members:

  • Anna Katharina Wildermuth, violin
  • Noémi Zipperling, violin
  • Caspar Vinzens, viola
  • Lukas Sieber, cello

The Aris Quartett emerged 2009 in Frankfurt am Main. For additional information see my review from the concert in the same location, on 2018-10-28.


Program


Setting, etc.

Once more I enjoyed the enormous privilege of a seat on the organ balcony, with direct view onto the podium. The nave wasn’t quite as full as in pre-pandemic times. Yet, the concert still attracted a reasonable audience, given the beautiful weather on this Sunday afternoon.


Concert & Review

Franz Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn

Haydn: String Quartet in B♭ major, op.76/4, “Sunrise”

Composer & Work

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) composed his last collection of 6 String Quartets, op.76, the so-called “Erdödy” quartets, in 1796/1797. After this, he only published two additional quartets, op.77 (the “Lobkowitz” quartets), in 1799, followed by a fragment from 1803 (later published as op.103). Within op.76, the String Quartet in B♭ major, op.76/4, Hob III:78 has the by-name “Sunrise”. It features the following four movements:

  1. Allegro con spirito
  2. Adagio
  3. Menuet: Allegro – Trio
  4. Finale: Allegro ma non troppo – Più allegro – Più presto

For a review of an earlier performance of this quartet (also in this series) see my review from 2018-04-08. That earlier performance featured compositions by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847), and by Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904).

The Performance

Unlike the earlier quartet recital in Zurich, on 2018-10-28, the Aris Quartett performed this concert standing (with the obvious exception of the cellist, of course). For people in the nave, this offered substantially improved the visibility. Furthermore, musicians who are standing enjoy more freedom of movement. This facilitates contacts and interactions among the musicians. And it also leads to a (visually and musically) more lively performance.

It is for good reason that prominent string quartets have switched to standing performances. Examples for notable ensembles that I have discussed in my blog are the Gringolts Quartet, as well as the Artemis Quartet. The latter is one of the key mentors of the Aris Quartett (pending a possible, future re-grouping, it has stopped performing in 2021, after a series of staff changes).

I. Allegro con spirito

The introduction to the first movement is all p—dawn, just before the sun rises above the horizon. The Aris Quartet went (almost) beyond that by opening with the most gentle, subtle, soft tones. Into this, the first violin (Anna Katharina Wildermuth) presented its initially ascending melody—simple, relaxed and atmospheric singing, without vibrato, but with a warm, expressive tone.

The dawn is short: in bar 21, the sun appears at once, breaking the calm with virtuosic, lively semiquaver figures that soon propagate through all voices. The articulation was light, “flying” in the semiquavers, yet full of verve and momentum, with lively dynamics. In the transition to the second theme, the cello returned to the calm, reflective atmosphere of the first bars. It appeared to compete with the violin introduction in terms of subtlety and warmth: beautiful! And the repeat of the exposition allowed listeners to enjoy the serene atmosphere of the introduction twice!

The short development phase is an excursion into minor keys. Thereafter, the part appears with reinforced expression. The ensemble avoided harshness in the frequent, clear and precise sforzandi, while maintaining drive, momentum. I enjoyed the transparency and lightness. The instruments appeared to harmonize ideally, contributing to a beautiful, balanced and homogeneous sonority. And yet, each of the instruments retained its specific, identifiable character. An excellent concert opening!

II. Adagio

An opportunity to listen into details of the ensemble’s soundscape, to enjoy the clean intonation, remarkable tonal purity, and carefully controlled / crafted dynamics. The modern(ized) string instruments exhibited the expected, smooth sonority. However, that does not imply a romanticizing interpretation. In general, the vibrato remained inconspicuous. It was applied selectively, and even in expressive passages, it never turned intrusive or irritating.

III. Menuet: Allegro – Trio

I never had doubts that Anna Katharina Wildermuth was “in control”. She appeared to be the anchor point throughout the concert. That observation comes from watching the interaction between the musicians. It does not imply that the first violin was dominating beyond the composer’s intent (sure, Haydn’s setting gave her the lead role). Actually, none of the musicians ever appeared to “fight for the lead”.

A joyful “fun” movement: serene and playful, with allusions to a comfy peasant dance. The Trio, equally placid, a musette that alternates between Hurdy-Gurdy segments (with drones) and unison interventions. The Aris Quartett retained the folksy atmosphere without exaggerations, and without turning this movement into a caricature. Excellent classic entertainment music in the best sense of the word!

IV. Finale: Allegro ma non troppo – Più allegro – Più presto

A movement that starts off in Rococo style, with an ornamented melody line. But the composer wasn’t Haydn if the movement didn’t modulate from B♭ major to moody B♭ minor—and then (back in B♭ major) built up to a virtuosic, joyful ending! The second violin (Noémi Zipperling) didn’t get many solo passages, but in the accelerating last part, it wonderfully merged with the first violin, making the two instruments sound like one. Finally, in the Più allegro part, the lively exchange of quaver motifs between all four instruments was as smooth and seamless as it possibly could be—excellent!

Rating: ★★★★

Franz Schubert, 1846, 3D Portrait
Franz Schubert

Schubert: String Quartet No.15 in G major, D.887 (op.161)

Composer & Work

Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) wrote his String Quartet No.15 in G major, D.887 (op.161) in 1826, two years before he died. This is his last contribution to the genre. Only in 1851, the string quartet in G major was finally published. Hereby, it received the opus number 161. The quartet features four movements:

  1. Allegro molto moderato, 3/4
  2. Andante un poco moto, 4/4
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace, 3/4 — Trio: Allegretto, 3/4
  4. Allegro assai, 6/8

This was my fourth live encounter with this work. For information on the preceding concert performances see my earlier reviews. In addition, I have compared three CD recordings of this composition in detail, so I won’t add more explanations here.

The Performance

Schubert’s highly expressive, last quartet with its massive dimensions and extreme expression is of course a different beast! Where Haydn’s “Sunrise” quartet may feel like a sunshine walk in nature, Schubert’s G major quartet is an overwhelming, emotional thunderstorm! Just moments after Haydn’s serene, playful music, we found ourselves in the enthralling drama of Schubert’s strenuous, almost monstrous opening movement.

I. Allegro molto moderato, 3/4

The two extreme crescendi, from p to an ff explosion, not only grew in volume, but at the same time from a flat tone to a highly expressive vibrato. That’s just the opening splash, though: after a few bars, the music retracts into pp, a sudden mood swing (so typical of Schubert) follows. Melancholic melody fragments (distant memories of a happy past?) above a mysterious background of pp (demisemiquaver) trembling, highly atmospheric, full of suspense and tension. Bleak moments with intermittent, violent ff eruptions. The ensemble exhibited excellent tone control, from the vehement outbreaks to the intimate discourse in the bleak “mystery sections”.

A performance out of one single mold, carried in equal parts by all four musicians, excellent in coordination, expressive coherence, and sonority—not just in the finest pp, but also in the violent moments. Inevitably with Schubert, though, the first violin of course faces the extra challenge of the melody line that often moves into highest positions. Anna Katharina Wildermuth mastered this with firm intonation and clean sonority.

Development Part and Recap Section

Never did the musicians lose the momentum. Rather, they even accelerated dramatically around the expressive climax in the development part. The recap section follows after a fermata. What was mystery and suspense in the exposition now felt like gentle, soothing recovery after a vehement lightning storm. The triplet movement, first in the viola (Caspar Vinzens), then in the violins, helped softening the expression.

Inevitably, the expressive segments return—but it now felt as if the storm had released some of the tension, eased the drama. The performance never lost intensity and presence, though! Quibbles? Not really. At least, nothing to blame the Aris Quartett for. It’s just that Schubert mostly left the second violin in the shadow of the melody voice—overall, it almost felt underrepresented, if not too modest?
★★★★½

II. Andante un poco moto, 4/4

In the introduction, the cello (Lukas Sieber) carries the melody smooth, clean, yet expressive. In high positions, its sound and gentleness almost matched that of the viola. I very much liked the sparing, selective use of vibrato, the excellent, clean sonority, the clarity in articulation, not just in the lyrical segments, but also in the expressive outbreaks. The annotation appears to indicate a calm movement—however, it’s another, vehement lightning storm, and the intermittent pp segments, it is loaded with tension and suspense—just as much as the first movement!
★★★★

III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace, 3/4 — Trio: Allegretto, 3/4

A virtuosic challenge, fast—though the rapid quaver figures still were clear, and the tone remained clean, never turned aggressive. Enthralling, full of suspense.

The Trio formed a stark contrast: to me, the melody line (first in the cello, then in the other instruments) was a tad too romantic, with its vibrato and the often prominent portamenti.
★★★½

IV. Allegro assai, 6/8

Also here, the Aris Quartett exhibited excellent sonority control, across the dynamic range, from subtle, gentle (elegant!) moments to the (once more!) vehement outbreaks. In the latter, the expression was in the dynamics, while the articulation remained clean, controlled, never turned rough. I just had one minor quibble: towards the end, there are a few segments with ppp annotation. I felt that the acoustics would have supported / allowed for even softer playing. However, it is probably hard for the musicians to assess how well an extremely fine ppp projects into the church acoustics?

The relentlessness, the eruptions in music and performance made one feel how much Schubert was “driven”, desperate, fighting, revolting against fate. Still, there are these moments where the first violin moves into heavenly heights—and Anna Katharina Wildermuth retained her flawless intonation!

An excellent performance, as exhaustive to the listeners as it must have been for the musicians.
★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★

Antonín Dvořák
Antonín Dvořák

Encore — Dvořák: No.11 from “Cypresses” (Cypřiše) for String Quartet, B.152

Composer & Work

In 1865, Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) composed 18 love songs, published under the title “Cypresses” (Cypřiše), B.11, based on poems by Gustav Pfleger Moravský (1833 – 1875). 1887, 22 years later, Dvořák arranged 12 of these songs (Nos. 2-4, 6-9, 12, 14, and 16-18) for string quartet. He published these under the same name, “Cypresses” (Cypřiše) for String Quartet, B.152.

In a short address to the audience (in Swiss German), Caspar Vinzens announced the encore: one of the quartet arrangements of “Cypresses”, B.152: No.11, “Nature Lies Peaceful in Slumber and Dreaming” (Nad krajem vévodí lehký spánek), Allegro scherzando. In the original song cycle (B.11), this is No.17.

This is my fourth encounter with a movement (song) from Dvořák’s “Cypresses”, B.152 as encore in a string quartet recital. The past instances consisted of No.3 and No.9 (twice).

The Performance

As Caspar Vinzens explained, it is / was impossible to perform another composition by Franz Schubert, after that composer’s summum opus (at least among the string quartets). The expression in the G major quartet can’t be topped, and anything else would look pale in comparison.

A conciliatory alternative by a different composer seemed the right choice. And indeed: Song No.11 is a simple, lovely melody, carefree, devoid of excess emotional load. It offered an ideal closure to the impressive, preceding performance, an ideal transition back into everyday’s life. And yet, it left the strong impressions from Schubert’s masterwork in the listener’s mind alone.


Acknowledgement

The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Hochuli Konzert AG, for the press ticket to this concert.


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