Thuringer Salon Quintett gives ‘Hallowe’en’ a fresh flavor

Thuringer Salon Quintett gives ‘Hallowe’en’ a fresh flavor

By Georgia Pampel, Music Critic

Halloween. The holiday usually evokes a scene of ghosts, goblins, pumpkins and bonfires. For some of us, on this year’s Halloween, Thursday evening, October 31, at Rockford College’s Maddox Theatre, the ghosts did not come in the usual draped sheet costumes, but rather took the form of

nostalgic images of times long gone by, afternoons passed in leisurely fashion in a Viennese coffee house, lulled by the graceful waltzes and tangos of another age, while lingering over a large cup of authentic Viennese coffee “mit schlag” (whipped cream) and skimming through the afternoon’s

newspapers, maybe waiting for a friend to come along.

I’m told that even back in Vienna, time now moves too swiftly to support that image for long, but the Thüringer Salonquintett, five young musicians based in Germany, go a long way to bring back those ever-haunting memories.

Four members are actually from Germany, plus one brave soul from our own

South Carolina, bass player Peter Nelson, trained in Boston at the New England Conservatory. While playing Double Bass, he also doubles as interpreter for the ensemble’s American tours, offering a lighthearted banter to carry the musical program along.

The group’s first American tour was as recent as 1999, and this is their seventh since then. They all are involved regularly with symphony orchestras around Europe, so their quintet excursions offer them a welcome change of pace, a lighter touch, and a refreshing shift of repertoire, along with the camaraderie of a small ensemble.

Mendelssohn Club brought the group to Rockford, always striving to present a wide range of repertoire, rendered by well-trained musicians. From the opening notes, the program focused mostly on easy-going sounds and familiar melodies, from beloved composers such as Fritz Kreisler, Franz

Lehar, Pablo de Sarasate, and Johann Strauss, Jr. ( the composer listed as “Anon” turned out to be Cole Porter, with the tango “Tag und Nacht,” German for “Night and Day”!)

But wait! What’s this? Charles Ives (1874-1954)? Yes, as Narrator Peter Nelson confessed, “It doesn’t really belong to our repertoire,” but how could they resist when they spotted the title of Ives’ 1906 work, “Halloween”? Here, the innovative American composer tries to portray a bonfire, starting with a few sparks, ascending scales, clashing with each other, rising in pitch and volume and tempo, until the blaze brings in percussive crashes from the piano, supported by a big bass drum (played by Rockford’s own Michael Beert in a guest appearance); soon the fire dies down quickly with descending musical lines, ending with a few last bangs from the drum. And, of course, the musicians all wore their scariest Hallowe’en masks for this brief excursion into Ives’ imagery (though Nelson confessed that the mask made his glasses steam up!).

For most of the concert, the four string instruments carried easily harmonized arrangements, while pianist Rainer Eichhorn filled in with an ornamental background that rippled and flowed, tying it all together, while sometimes adding the zinging sounds recalled from zithers and balalaikas as the program reached into Russia and Hungary for a bit of spice. The only thing missing was a small dance floor as our feet sometimes twitched with a yearning to join the festivities.

For some of us, however, the most striking memories of the evening center on the occasional starring role held by this tour’s guest first violin, René Bogner, who repeatedly made us sit up and gasp in amazement as,

crouching and swaying, he demonstrated all the pyrotechnics and tricks of his

instrument, well executed to prove his years of training and practice.

Still a young man, he began playing at age 5, but the program gave 1995 as

the date when he was still finishing up his training, and since then he has served as the assistant concertmaster of the Middle German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig, while touring the world as a soloist and chamber musician. The evening’s performance suggests that his is a name to watch for as the future should bring him to the foreground in the concert world.

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