A fine foursome due in Columbia

Ensemble: Chamber music lovers can expect a stellar performance when the Mendelssohn String Quartet takes the stage at Smith Theatre on Saturday.

Preview

November 08, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The world's finest string quartets perform in Columbia on a regular basis thanks to Candlelight Concerts, Maryland's premier chamber music series.

That trend will continue Saturday evening when the members of the Mendelssohn String Quartet take the Smith Theatre stage at 8 p.m. for a program of three extraordinary works by Mozart, Beethoven and Henri Dutilleux.

In its two decades of life, the Mendelssohn Quartet has established itself as a chamber ensemble to be reckoned with.

Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and London's Wigmore Hall are a few of the venues where it routinely performs.

The ensemble has won artists-in-residence appointments to Harvard University, University of Delaware and North Carolina School for the Arts, and is heard across the country on Minnesota Public Radio's St. Paul Sunday.

The quartet has mighty distinguished friends as well. Over the years, its musical collaborators have included pianists Menahem Pressler and Claude Frank, the legendary cellist Janos Starker, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and, on flute, Jean-Pierre Rampal.

This is a time of transition for the ensemble, which has undergone a 50 percent makeover in the past two years as first violinist Miriam Fried and violist Ulrich Eichenauer have joined. Fried's presence is noteworthy because she was enjoying a successful solo career at the time she decided to devote a more substantial portion of her musical life to the chamber idiom.

"She was one of those soloists who had fire coming off her fingertips," says Bonnie Blankenship, an agent with Colbert Artists of New York that manages the quartet. "But she loves the repertoire and has really adjusted to the new role. The others love to play with her. She's some chamber violinist, too."

Nicholas Mann, the group's second violinist, has string quartet playing in his blood. He is the son of Robert Mann, the impassioned fiddler who recently concluded a legendary tenure as lead violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet.

In its new configuration, the quartet has caught the eye of the BIS label, a Swedish recording company with a most distinguished discography. Recordings of works by composers associated with Harvard University and of the Mendelssohn viola quintets are about to be released.

Masterpieces will abound at Saturday's concert. Mozart's D major quartet, K. 575, is notable for its lyrical themes and for the unusually prominent and virtuosi cello lines that will be played by Marcy Rosen, the group's fine cellist. Opus 59, No. 3 in C major, the third of Beethoven's Middle Period Razoumovsky quartets, is one of those special works that allow a full ensemble to shine more than any individual player. As is often the case in Beethoven, the mood swings are incredible, and the slow movement, animated by flowing pizzicato (plucked) figures, is an absolute delight.

Henri Dutilleux's (b. 1916) Ainsi la Nuit (And then the night) is an image-filled work divided into evocative movements such as "Mirror of Space," "Constellations" and "Suspended Time."

Candlelight's presentation of the Mendelssohn Quartet will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College. Tickets are $24 for general admission; $18 for senior citizens; $9 for students. Information or tickets: 410-715-0034.

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