Storied quartet a treat at HCC

Concert: The Leipzig Gewandhaus Quartet, steeped in the history of its namesake orchestra, will perform tomorrow.

Howard Live

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November 13, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Like racehorses and royalty, orchestras have bloodlines, too.

And no orchestra in the world has blood any bluer than Germany's Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig.

Founded in 1781 by Leipzig's civic leadership three decades after the death of Johannes Sebastian Bach, the city's most illustrious adopted son, the Gewandhaus quickly became one of Europe's most distinguished orchestras.

It was from the Gewandhaus podium that 19th-century composer Felix Mendelssohn presided over the musical renaissance that placed the music of Bach at the core of the mainstream symphonic repertory.

Luminaries such as Arthur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Bruno Walter and Kurt Masur would later serve as conductors, each adding significantly to the legacy of the orchestra.

So the visit of a string quartet culled from the front-desk ranks of this most aristocratic of orchestras tomorrow evening at Columbia's Smith Theatre should be an extraordinary treat. The quartet is to perform works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich under the auspices of the Candlelight Concert Society.

Frank-Michael Erben (first violin), Conrad Suske (second violin), Volker Metz (viola) and Jurnjakob Timm (cello) compose the current incarnation of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Quartet, the world's oldest continuously performing string chamber ensemble with ancestry dating to 1809.

The Gewandhaus Quartet has an illustrious history to match the orchestra from which it is drawn.

Nineteenth-century quartet members included Ferdinand David, the dedicatee of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, as well as the incomparable Joseph Joachim, who premiered the Violin Concerto of Johannes Brahms. (Joachim also ended for all time the tradition of buffoonish performance practices that had trivialized Beethoven's D major Violin Concerto. The purity of his approach elevated this celestial masterwork to the exalted status it continues to occupy. )

The current version of the quartet lives up to its storied name, collaborating frequently with the likes of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, chamber pianist extraordinaire Menahem Pressler and clarinetist Sabine Meyer.

The group also is known for sterling recordings of the late Beethoven quartets, works by Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Prokofieff, and a pairing of quartets by Schumann and Brahms, both of which received their first-ever performances by this same ensemble in the mid-19th century.

Tomorrow's program will include Franz Joseph Haydn's Opus 65, No. 5, a chipper, extravagantly songful piece aptly subtitled The Lark; a doff of the cap to Mendelssohn with his Opus 44, No. 1, a wonderful quartet with delicate interior movements surrounded on either side by virtuosic string writing set on a grand orchestral scale; and the bristling Third Quartet by Dmitri Shostakovich, with its unique brand of rhythmic propulsion that is Russian to its core.

Columbia's Candlelight Concert Society presents the Leipzig Gewandhaus Quartet at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia. Tickets are $29 general admission; $26 for seniors; and $12 for students. Information: 410-480-9950.

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