Quatuor Tchalik
Beethoven / Farago

Kirche St.Peter, Zurich, 2021-05-16

3.5-star rating

2021-05-21 — Original posting
2021-05-31 — Added amendment on last movement of Beethoven’s op.135



Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeKirche St.Peter in Zurich, 2021-05-21 15:00 (& 17:00)
Series / TitleNeue Konzertreihe Zürich, Streichquartette in der Kirche St.Peter
OrganizerHochuli Konzert AG
Reviews from related eventsConcerts in this Series
Concerts at Kirche St.Peter, Zurich

The Artists

The Quatuor Tchalik (founded 2013, see also Wikipedia) emerged in a Russian-French family and features four siblings:

  • Gabriel Tchalik, violin (*1989)
  • Louise Tchalik, violin
  • Sarah Tchalik, viola
  • Marc Tchalik, cello (*1999)

Since its foundation, the ensemble made numerous appearances throughout Europe, often with their elder sibling, the pianist Dania Tchalik, to form a piano quintet. The Quatuor Tchalik took ensemble classes at the McGill International String Quartet Academy (MISQA) in Montreal, at the European Chamber Music Academy, the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, the Académie Musicale de Villecroze, and the Centre européen de musique de chambre Paris (ProQuartet).

Starting in 2016, the ensemble continued its education at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofia in Madrid. There, it is taking master classes with Günter Pichler (*1940), the founder of the Alban Berg Quartet. Since 2019, they are studying with Krzysztof Chorzelski (*1971), violist of the Belcea Quartet.

The ensemble performs on instruments by the luthier Philippe Mitéran (Bourg-la-Reine) and bows by Konstantin Cheptitski, manufactured to meet the ensemble’s requirements. The string instruments were allegedly manufactured (starting 2007) not aiming for sound uniformity, but for complementarity within the ensemble.


Program

Setting, etc.

It looks as though the pandemic is gradually coming to an end in Switzerland—but for the time being, the restrictions to a maximum audience size of 50 persist. For this quartet recital, the organizer was offering two instances (one at 15:00h, the second one at 17:00h), in order to compensate the restrictions partially. This review is from the first of the two recitals. The audience size was slightly below the allowance of 50. Despite the mandatory facial masks, the ample physical distance between audience members, people are very wary, and vaccinations are only just taking place.

My wife and I enjoyed the privilege of having seats on the organ balcony—with excellent view and the possibility to take photos with plain view onto the artists.


Concert & Review

Beethoven: String Quartet No.16 in F major, op.135, “Muss es sein? — Es muss sein!

Among the 16 string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), the String Quartet No.16 in F major, op.135is his last one, written in October 1826. The work has four movements as follows:

  1. Allegretto
  2. Vivace
  3. Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo
  4. Der schwer gefasste EntschlussGrave, ma non troppo tratto (Muss es sein?) – Allegro (Es muss sein!) – Grave, ma non troppo tratto – Allegro

Above the last movement, Beethoven wrote “Muss es sein? — Es muss sein!” (Must it be? — It must be!). This phrase is associated with the entire composition, and people sometimes use it as title for the work. I have posted an extensive comparison of numerous recordings of this composition, in which I have also included a somewhat detailed description of the movements. In addition, I have written about live performances of this work, as part of a concert in Lugano, on 2017-04-22, and later, with a concert in Brugg, on 2019-11-30.

The Role of the Instruments

Reading about the ensemble’s instruments, I was particularly curious about their sound. To me, the fact that the instruments are new is not a disadvantage. Quite to the contrary! True, not everybody has the luck, or the perseverance and energy to hunt for donors, let alone buy precious, old Italian instruments. Moreover, for a quartet, finding four such instruments (which, after all, ought to offer similar or complementary sound qualities) easily becomes an insurmountable task. And, after all, the number of historic string instruments is strictly limited, the prices therefore out of reach for most artists. A substantial number of these instruments are in the hands of foundations or wealthy owners who regard these instruments as investments and only lend out their preciosities on a case-by-case basis.

However, contrary to what many listeners (and artists) may (want to) believe, there are indeed excellent luthiers out there who are perfectly able to manufacture instruments that match, maybe sometimes even exceed, the qualities of historic ones. In fact, a fair number of prominent soloists perform on modern instruments!

If, on top of that, an ensemble such as the Quatuor Tchalik is able to work with a luthier, in order to have instruments that are not only of excellent quality individually, but furthermore match or complement each other in their sound. Overall, for a string quartet, such a setup can easily turn into an advantage over ensembles with historic instruments. So—let’s see (or, rather, hear)!

The Performance

Sound

The ensemble’s sound felt very organic, yet highly differentiated in color and characteristics. Three weeks earlier, I had made the delightful experience of hearing how well, if not perfectly, the acoustics of Kirche St.Peter work with (maybe even enhance) the sound of the cello. Today’s concert confirmed these findings, in that Marc Tchalik’s instrument sounded with exceptional presence and clarity. Could it even be that this has been helped by the limited audience size?

Somewhat regretfully, violins and viola did not share that advantage: at least in the upper range (the higher, the more), the reverberation often noticeably affected the clarity of the articulation, and the transparency.

In terms of sound color, cello and viola were always clearly identifiable and characteristic, whereas Louise Tchalik’s violin often sounded very close to Gabriel’s instrument, occasionally almost indistinguishable, perfectly matched. Certainly in Beethoven’s quartets, it makes sense for these two instruments to be matching rather than complementary.

I. Allegretto

Right from the first bars, I noticed the ensemble’s warm, even dark color—not just in the cello, but very palpably also on Sarah Tchalik’s smooth, yet characteristic viola sound in the opening motif. The artists mostly (see below) performed with vibrato. However, that largely remained inconspicuous and harmonious overall.

The movement did not feel so much like a mellow composition of age. Rather, the quartet slightly accelerated at the end of the introduction, then maintained drive, energy, refrained from excessive broadening in ritardandi. I noted the lively, expressive, often energetic dynamics. The pronounced, but not harsh sforzandi helped shaping the phrases, kept the music “talking”. There was an occasional, slight tendency towards “swelling” (as opposed to percussive) accents.

In the ensemble’s interpretation, the reminiscence (in this concert rather an anticipation?) of the Große Fuge, op.133 starting in bar 110 seemed to stand out subtly, was more than just a side-note.
★★★½

II. Vivace

Not surprisingly, the quartet chose a (almost) youthful tempo—a little fast? Sure, the performance was excellent in terms of agility and unanimity: a tricky movement in its shifted rhythms! I suspect that the tempo was too fast, to the point where the coordination occasionally started to lose precision—or was this just the acoustics? I doubt it. For the first time in this concert, I felt that the reverberation occasionally affected the clarity of the performance (articulation and/or coordination), especially in the high voices. I’ll get back to this later. I think that a slightly slower tempo would have helped the precision, the coordination, as well as the clarity (certainly for the listener).
★★★½

III. Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo

Beautiful, already in the warm, dark singing in the first violin in the initial theme! The artists used a harmoniously swaying vibrato, well-dosed, non-intrusive. No voice was really ever dominating, the dynamics were careful and diligent throughout, as were articulation, tone, and bowing: there wasn’t a trace of Nachdrücken: a first highlight in this concert! I particularly noted the intonation purity, and the extreme care with which Gabriel Tchalik performed high-pitch entries.

Here is one instance where I felt that key impulses (very subtly, though) came from the cello rather than from the other voices (see also below). This could, however, also be due to the central role of the bass line and its particular beauty in this movement.
★★★★½

IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss: Muss es sein? Es muss sein!

I found it remarkable how cello and viola “pulled” the notes in the “Muss es sein?” motif—with very little vibrato. The whole notes bars 7ff even stood out without any vibrato at all, “raw”, intense, and urging—as was the “nodding” response in the violins. The Grave, ma non tratto annotation does not refer to the “pulling”—non tratto indicates no dragging in the tempo.

Once again, staccato crotchets were sometimes lacking clarity, very likely due to the reverberation. In order to retain transparency in this acoustic environment, a slightly slower tempo and/or somewhat lighter articulation might have helped? Not a problem for the cello, though, which easily retained presence and clarity in this movement (see also above).
★★★★

Notation vs. Performance?

Just one little quibble: in the first instance of “Muss es sein?“, Beethoven writes a crescendo on the half note (done with poignance), whereas the second instance has a decrescendo. Here, both instances appeared with crescendo. Why?

Sarah Tchalik mentioned to me that the ensemble is using the latest Urtext Edition (Beethoven, 1826/2004). There, the editor noted that in Beethoven’s manuscript there is indeed a crescendo in the viola voice, but the cello has decrescendo. Older editions (such as the one I used) resolved this discrepancy towards decrescendo, whereas the editor of that Urtext edition assumed that the composer made an error in the cello voice. I hadn’t been aware of the ambiguity in the autograph. Even though we will never know with 100% certainty what the composer’s intent was, I can certainly see that a crescendo makes sense.

I should say that I did not follow the score note-by-note during the concert. I did, however note that bar 3 was different from what I expected from the many performances that I listened to in the past. Only then I checked on my tablet to see a difference to my score (an old edition, I concede). I now checked with my music collection (15 recordings) and can confirm that most ensembles follow the traditional reading with decrescendo: some do a belly note, others seem unsure what to do. Very rarely I heard a clear crescendo.

Interactions

I always find it highly interesting to observe the web of interactions within chamber music ensembles, string quartets in particular—and this concert was no exception. All artists being siblings, they of course are highly familiar with each other’s characteristics, intent, temperament. With this, i.e., the years of shared experience, etc., there was apparently no need for permanent eye contact, or for a clear “leader” exerting control and direction. A hierarchy very likely exists, but may well be hidden in a public performance.

Hierarchy?

By intuition, one might expect that the senior member of the ensemble, Gabriel Tchalik (*1989) at the first violin would assume the lead function. If that was the case, it was certainly not evident—at least not beyond the natural lead function of the top voice. Sure (from my position at least) it was hard to judge how much he “kept an eye” on his siblings—if he did, then surely not to a greater extent than his sisters, Louise and Sarah.

Interestingly, Marc Tchalik (*1999), the cellist, appeared to set himself apart at the right edge of the group, which suggested that either the three other siblings were jointly “looking after” him—or that Marc Tchalik was given the lead role. In fact, it sometimes (remarkably) felt as if impulses were coming from the cello, rather than from the first violin. Was this maybe just an impression because the acoustics were favoring the cello, as indicated above?

Overall Rating: ★★★★

Farago: Quale stormo d’augei notturno (2020)

Pierre Farago (source: independent.academia.edu)
Pierre Farago (source: independent.academia.edu)

The Composer

The French composer Pierre Farago was born 1969 in the city of Caen (northwestern France). He initially studied organ, piano, and harpsichord. Thereafter, he moved to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, where he ended up winning awards in organ playing, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, as well as in composition. His main career now is that of an internationally active organist, but he is also receiving high acclaim as a composer.

Encounters with autism in his teaching activities led him to studies about the origin of this disorder. A book that he wrote on autism has been well-received by the French philosophical and psychiatric communities.

The Composition

Quale stormo d’augei notturno (First performance in Switzerland) refers to a line from a poem by Torquato Tasso (1544 – 1595). Tasso is not only the author of Gerusalemme Liberata, a centerpiece in European literature, but (among other works) he also wrote a large collection of almost 2000 poems (Rime, rhymes), published in nine books (1567 – 1593). Books I – IV run under the title Rime d’amore, and within these, the first one is Libro I. Rime per Lucrezia Bendidio, featuring 128 poems. Of these, No.34, Fuggite, egre mie cure, aspri martiri, reads as follows:

(Appressandosi alla sua donna dice a’ suoi pensieri ed a’ suoi affanni che si partano da lui)

Fuggite, egre mie cure, aspri martiri,
     Sotto il cui peso giacque oppresso il core,
     Ché per albergo or mi destina Amore
     Di nova speme e di più bei desiri.
Sapete pur che, quando avvien ch’io miri
     Gli occhi infiammati di celeste ardore,
     Non sostenete voi l’alto splendore
     Né ’l fiammeggiar di que’ cortesi giri,
Quale stormo d’augei notturno e fosco
     Battendo l’ali innanzi al dí che torna
     A rischiarar questa terrena chiostra.
E già, se a’ certi segni il ver conosco,
     Vicino è il sol che le mie notti aggiorna,
     E veggio Amor che me l’addita e mostra.

Here’s an attempt at an approximate translation, using Google Translate and a commented edition of Tasso’s work. Words in square brackets are my own suggested translations for the preceding word:

(Approaching his wife, he says to her thoughts and her worries that arise about him)

Flee, my dear cares [custodies], bitter martyrs,
      Under whose weight the heart lays oppressed,
      For now Love is destined for me
      Of new hope and more beautiful desires.
 You also know that when it happens that I aim
      Eyes inflamed with celestial ardor,
      Do not support the high splendor
      Nor the blaze of those courteous rounds,
 What a nocturnal and dusky flock of augeans [owls]
      Beating the wings towards the day that returns
      to illuminate this earthly cloister.
 And already, if I know the truth at certain signs,
      Near is the sun that adjourns my nights,
      And I see Love that points and shows it to me.

The Quatuor Tchalik, Pierre Farago, and Quale stormo d’augei notturno

After a brief greeting note by the organizer, Jürg Hochuli, the violist of the quartet, Sarah Tchalik, conducted a short interview (in excellent German, notably!) with the composer, Pierre Farago, who came to Zurich just for this performance. Farago composed Quale stormo d’augei notturno for the Quatuor Tchalik in 2020. Naturally it also was this ensemble with performed the world premiere on 2020-10-03, on the occasion of the “Night of the Quartet” at the Philharmonie de Paris.

Pierre Farago seemed almost embarrassed to state that while he is composing, he often does not “understand” what his composition is about. Only in the aftermath, in this case, he “found” a connection between his piece and the line from the above poem by Torquato Tasso. Consequently, the one explanation he was in a position (and willing) to offer were the three lines starting with the title of the piece, translated to German.

Even if the briefness of that explanation was partly due to Farago’s limited German (reading from a smartphone)—I think these lines are more than enough to trigger the listener’s imagination. As I don’t have a score, the descriptive text below is entirely based on the sketchy notes that I scribbled down during the performance.

The Music

Pierre Farago’s composition is atonal in harmonies and melodies. He does, however, largely stick to late- and post-romantic textures. Certainly, it’s far from being harmless, traditional / conventional, yet, it does not try irritating or bewildering the listener though extreme, “grinding” dissonances or experimental / noise features. Rather, it carries the listener along, through an imaginative journey that conveys colors, evolves into beautiful, wide-spanning cantilenas. Music full of tension, expectation, evoking images, atmosphere, maybe (initially) the sensation of a hot summer day.

Then, it’s not just the title that makes the listener think of the mysteries of the night, trembling, the suspense of darkness. Imitatory, canon-like passages. Clarity and transparency in shimmering, light textures: the miracles of a starry night sky? Resting harmonies, “airy” sounds like from an Aeolian harp, out of which swarms of leaves, insects, or birds appear and vanish again.

Eruptions, waves of vibrant textures, colors follow, even vehement outbreaks, the cantilenas now dissolved into melody fragments, earthquake-like, shattering quivering, calming down again, returning to violin cantilenas above pp trembling, retracting into flageolets, into silence, while maintaining the suspense to the very end: “listening into silence”—melancholy, open-ended, open question…

The Performance

It goes without saying that the Quatuor Tchalik’s performance wasn’t just very clean and technically flawless, but also highly compelling, vibrant. And it’s fascinating music, so imaginative, captivating—even though it really is mostly reflecting and atmospheric. To me, the highlight of this concert experience.

It is soothing to encounter contemporary music that (for once) does not “digest” personal tragedy, the misery of life on Earth, catastrophes, the anxieties, the horrors, the pending disasters that mankind is experiencing at present times!

Rating: ★★★★½

Beethoven: String Quartet in B♭ major, op.133, “Große Fuge” (Great Fugue)

Towards the end of his life, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) returned to the genre of string quartets again, creating a series of monumental works, all of which are central to the string quartet repertoire. In its original form, the String Quartet No.13 in B♭ major, op.130 premiered in March 1826, featuring the following movements:

  1. Adagio, ma non troppo – Allegro
  2. Presto
  3. Andante con moto, ma non troppo. Poco scherzoso
  4. Alla danza tedesca. Allegro assai
  5. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
  6. Große FugeOvertura, Allegro – Meno mosso e moderato – Allegro – Fuga – Meno mosso e moderato – Allegro molto e con brio

The reaction on the last movement was mixed: publisher and friends suggested a simpler final movement. Beethoven complied and agreed to publishing the work with a new final movement (Allegro). Beethoven never witnessed a performance of the work with the new finale. The original, final movement later appeared separately, as Große Fuge (Great Fugue) in B♭ major, op.133.

Again, I have written an extensive comparison of numerous recordings of this work, hence I save the space for the description. In addition, I have written about two performances of Beethoven’s op.133, both as part of the String Quartet op.130 in its original form: one in this venue on 2018-07-08, and a second one in Bern, on 2019-01-21.

The Performance

Overtura, AllegroMeno mosso e moderato

Excellent coherence and sound homogeneity in the vehement, unison f / ff figures in the initial bars, the Overtura.
★★★★

AllegroFuga

Firm, decisive, poignant, strong—with the one downside that in the given acoustics and at the chosen pace, the semiquavers were very often in danger of being “swallowed”. In this setting, a slightly slower tempo might have offered more articulative clarity. At the same time, this also seemed to affect the transparency, the structural clarity in this challenging fugue. Clearly, this was the most difficult part of the recital so far.
★★★

Meno mosso e moderato

Very nice: subtle, gentle, differentiated. I particularly liked the fact that the melody (crotchets and half notes) appeared to be devoid of vibrato, which made them stand out against the semiquaver movements, even though the sempre pp was observed at all times. Excellent!
★★★★

Allegro molto e con brioMeno mosso e moderatoAllegro molto e con brio

Unanimous, virtuosic, fast, full of momentum—though again: the amount of reverberation in this venue called for a slightly slower tempo, maybe lighter / shorter articulation, possibly also additional differentiation in the dynamics. Occasionally, in the most vehement ff moments, the intonation purity (otherwise excellent in general) in individual notes started suffering slightly—signs of exhaustion?

Towards the Coda, the performance seemed to pick up additional “pull”, drive, and intensity—not surprisingly at the expense of some clarity.
★★★

Some of the above comments may sound critical—in parts, I attribute this to the acoustics, maybe also to the quartet failing to adjust to the acoustic environment. However, beyond any doubt, the ensemble exerted excellent musicianship, enthusiasm and engagement!

Overall Rating: ★★★½

Encore — Beethoven: String Quartet No.13 in B♭ major, op.130 — V. Cavatina

In response to the applause, Sarah Tchalik announced an encore—the movement No.5, the famous Cavatina (Adagio molto espressivo) that preceded the Große Fuge in the original form of the String Quartet No.13 in B♭ major, op.130.

The choice of encore sounds logical—yet, I’m not so sure that selecting one of Beethoven’s emotionally most intimate and intense movements was such a good idea. In the original quartet, this preceded the Große Fuge, which followed as a response to the Cavatina. Here, after all the excitement, the turmoil in the fugue, it felt as if neither the listeners nor the musicians were fully able to return to the intimacy, the emotional warmth and intensity of the Cavatina.

I don’t think the tempo is to blame. The pace wasn’t really too fast, and I don’t expect the movement to be exceedingly slow (there is no need to “squeeze out tears”). Rather, after what happened in the fugue, it (understandably) seemed hard to return to the appropriate calm. Yes, the dynamics were differentiated, the interpretation had homogeneity and coherence—but somehow, it still felt a tad restless, too fluent. And here, the vibrato now was rather prominent—too prominent for my ears, possibly even adding unrest?

Alternatives?

Why not select the movement that replaced the Große Fuge on Beethoven’s op.130, the alternative Finale: Allegro? However, I concede that this alternative comes with its own set of challenges. This may be the reason why many ensembles avoid it…
★★★½


Conclusion

Beyond any doubt, the Quatuor Tchalik is a highly promising ensemble with extraordinary coherence and musicality—a string quartet that is well worth keeping an eye on!

Note that my rating reflects the concert experience, not just the ensemble’s performance and interpretation. In other words: it includes the aspects of acoustics, and how the ensemble adjusted to the amount of reverberation, the “response” of the venue.


YouTube: The Quatuor Tchalik with Quale stormo d’augei notturno

Not a real video, just a still image. However, this at least offers people outside of the (so far) limited concert audiences to listen to Pierre Farago’s composition:


Literature

Beethoven, L., van. (2004). Beethoven, Streichquartett F-dur op.135: Vol. (R. Cadenbach, Ed.; Urtextausgabe, Studien-Edition (Pocket Score)). G. Henle Verlag. (Original work published 1826) HN 9744, 52pp.


Author: Rolf Kyburz

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