Friday, February 28, 2022, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, February 30, 2:00 p.m.
Kleines Quartett in E-flat major
Ten years younger than Beethoven, Conradin Kreutzer was born in the Southwest German town of Messkirch. His career as an operatic composer and conductor took him to a number of posts in Germany and Austria, including several stints in the major Viennese theaters. Of his many operas, two works of 1834 were outstanding successes, Das Nachtlager von Granada (A Night’s Shelter in Granada) and Der Verschwender (The Spendthrift). The latter is still performed occasionally in Vienna.
This “little quartet” for clarinet and strings contains only three movements, all of modest dimensions. It is cheerful, unpretentious, tuneful, and well-crafted.
The first movement begins with a chord in the strings, followed by a short questioning phrase that is answered by the clarinet. This first phrase in the strings recurs constantly to hold the movement together; for instance, when the second theme arrives in the violin, the clarinet plays a countermelody using that idea.
The Andante grazioso has the character of an operatic number on some pleasant subject. The finale is a rondo with three episodes, the first one lively, the second a development of the rondo theme, and the third more serious in character to contrast with the final appearance of the main theme.
Variations on a Theme by Beethoven
An important figure in the history of piano playing, Leschetizky studied with Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny and taught a roster of distinguished pianists headed by Artur Schnabel and his fellow Pole Ignacy Paderewski. His large catalog of compositions is largely unperformed today, though the quality of this set of variations suggests that there may be other music of real interest in it. The theme for these variations comes from Beethoven’s Andante in F major for piano, originally intended for the “Waldstein” sonata, op. 53. Its elaboration in a diverse set of little character pieces is also reminiscent of Beethoven’s approach, particularly when it culminates in an enhanced return of the original theme at the end.
Quartet for oboe, violin, cello, and piano
This quartet for a rare—but effective—combination of instruments dates from 1947, when the composer was living in New York. The first movement is brisk and cheerful. There is no real slow movement; the slow section at the beginning of the second movement is really an extended introduction to the quick section that follows, which concludes the quartet in the mood in which it began.
String Quintet no. 2 in G major
During the nineteenth century the string quintet with second viola or cello was overshadowed by the string quartet, but there are fine works of the type with second viola by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, and Dvořák, as well as Brahms. The combination was more suited to amateur than to professional performances. As composers made greater and greater demands on performers in their chamber music, the quintet lost its raison d’être and there have been few notable ones written since 1900.
Brahms, whose principal instrument was the piano, found composing chamber music for strings without piano a struggle. Out of dozens of attempts, he published just seven works: two early sextets, three quartets from his middle years, and the quintets opp. 88 and 111 in 1882 and 1890, respectively. This second quintet is his last chamber work other than four pieces with clarinet. (Brahms may have intended it as his farewell to composition altogether, though fortunately he changed his mind.) It preceded the clarinet quintet by only a year, but the two pieces are completely different in mood; the one with clarinet is a work of deep melancholy, while this one with two violas is one of Brahms’s sunniest works.
Brahms begins the quintet with a unique sound, shimmering chords in the four upper instruments while the cello plays a wide-ranging melody beneath. Later in the movement, when this theme returns, it passes quickly into the first violin and soars above the rest of the ensemble. The opening sets an optimistic tone for the entire movement, which is animated with a dancelike quality that may have been inspired by some of Bach’s jigs.
None of the three other movements is terribly weighty or complex. The second movement is a set of three increasingly free variations on a sad—but not terribly sad—little theme. As often with Brahms, the third movement is in the tempo of a slow minuet. Again, as one might expect of Brahms, the finale is the liveliest part of the quintet, a Gypsy-flavored movement that grows downright boisterous by the end.