Enso Quartet performs with Rockford Symphony

Enso Quartet performs with Rockford Symphony

By Georgia Pampel

By Georgia Pampel

Music Critic

Interesting contrasts were found in the Rockford Symphony Orchestra program Saturday night, April 6, when Maestro Steven Larsen programmed a curious sequence of musical choices. Throughout the evening, there was a recurrence of the use of dance forms, dynamic dialogue between louder and softer choirs of instruments, and instrumentation settings that left many listeners reaching to spot the unifying elements, but also to identify what it was that they seemed to miss.

The first half of the program was all strings, with some understated support from a harpsichord to reinforce the harmonies. The strings rewarded the listener with a rich mellow blend of sound, in Henry Purcell’s Suite from “The Gordian Knot Unty’d”. Purcell (1659-1695) composed in a wide variety of musical forms in his short life, and this Suite, typical of the early baroque style, is a series of dances, organized so loosely that Larsen took the friendly precaution of advising the audience that when the suite was over, he would signal the ending by asking the orchestra to stand, so that we might be comfortably certain that we were applauding at the appropriate time. It made a pleasant opener for the evening, but somehow left us looking for something more.

The program continued with a Concerto Grosso (No. 2) by Ernest Bloch (1880-1959). This work, drawn from baroque roots, introduced the Enso String Quartet, to balance the string orchestra in the continuing dialogue of statement and response, again referencing traditional dance forms.

The Enso, a young quartet, currently resident at Northern Illinois University, embarked on their joint career as an ensemble when they met in graduate school at Yale University, having been trained at such prestigious spots as Juilliard, Curtis, and the University of Indiana.

Bloch, writing at 72, (twice the age at which Purcell died), seems in this concerto to scan the evolution of European musical expression, opening with a section that could have been written by Purcell’s students, and then gradually experimenting with soulful modal echoes drawn from the traditions of Eastern Europe. It progressed into more complex harmonies, moving into mild dissonance, but working often within a deceptively simple descending scale that contained enough chromatic touches to rock the listener back on his heels. Throughout, the quartet played as one instrument, with the cello in particular reaching up to the higher registers to blend with the others and catch the audience off guard. But the Bloch composition, like the Purcell, had a quiet ending, leaving the audience uncertain at first in its response.

Larsen was already acquainted with the members of the quartet, who had each filled in with the Rockford Symphony at times when more voices were needed. So it was not a surprise to spot them in the orchestra that returned after the intermission to take us through Ravel’s very familiar Pavane pour une infante défunte.

The Pavane, a sober dance form, went by easily enough, as the orchestra was expanded to include harp, woodwinds and some brass, all sounding out their melody lines over the pizzicato strings. So far, all three works, while related in their use of the dance, and in their nostalgia for earlier forms, all seemed to miss something — but how would we pin down what it was? Where would we find the words?

When I came home, I finally had time to go through the Saturday New York Times, (one of my few ties with the city that was my home for so many years). Saturday’s Times happened to carry a review of a New York Philharmonic concert that programmed a large Prokofiev work (“Alexander Nevsky”) and the Mozart Requiem. To draw a few words from the Times review, “Mozart reconstitutes the outside world in disembodied sound. And what strangely wonderful music it is. One listens and realizes afresh that the term ‘avant-garde’ cannot be defined by age, style or period.” In just this way did the ear receive Saturday’s final musical offering, Mozart’s Symphony No. 36, nicknamed the “Linz,” for it was composed in just a few days, on the request of one of the local potentates, when Mozart’s travels took him through the city of Linz.

This symphony is singled out by many writers as a kind of watershed in Mozart’s repertoire, as he experiments for the first time with an adagio opening for the first movement, possibly a tribute to Haydn’s use of the same practice. Mozart then goes on with a variety of simple melodies, at one point using a rising scale as Bloch used the descending line. The Symphony displays a totally different instrumental balance, as the brass and timpani take the lead and clearly dominate, introducing a martial character, and often seeming to leave the strings behind in a supporting role. And each movement becomes more and more enriched, as Mozart elevated his use of dance forms into a personal idiom of his own.

It was a treat to hear the Mozart with this kind of focus, as the star of the evening.

The Enso Quartet stayed on to offer a quartet concert Sunday afternoon (which I was unable to attend), and they will return for another concert appearance on May 5, at Memorial Hall.

The Orchestra has one more concert in its classical series, April 27, featuring solo Violinist Corey Cerovsek. In addition, the Orchestra will provide the music for the Rockford Dance Company’s performance of Sleeping Beauty, at the Coronado Theatre, in two performances Saturday, April 13. One of the unsung improvements in the renovated Coronado Theatre is that there is now space in the orchestra pit to hold a real orchestra instead of the small ensembles that used to have to crowd in there in the past.

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