The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet performs an all-Italian program four times this month starting this weekend and returns as an ensemble-in-residence at the First Unitarian Society of Madison | September 3, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

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The Ancora String Quartet (below) opens its 19th season with a program of works by three Italian composers more usually associated with opera, or solo violin music, than with string quartets.

Members of the Ancora String Quartet (ASQ, below from left in a photo by Barry Lewis) are violins Wes Luke and Robin Ryan; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

Violin virtuoso and composer Antonio Bazzini (below) led a rockstar’s life, touring Europe and hobnobbing with Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. He later settled in Milan, winning first prize in the Milan quartet competition in 1864 with this piece. The Scherzo shows Mendelssohn’s influence, and the Andante sostenuto delivers breathtakingly beautiful passages of lyrical romance and tender passion.

Opera great Giaocomo Puccini wrote Chrysanthemums (Crisantemi) in one night, upon hearing the news of the death of his friend the Duke of Savoy in 1890. The six-minute piece expresses the composer’s sorrow, in themes that bring to mind the poignant melodies of “Madama Butterfly.” (You can hear “Chrysanthemums” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The String Quartet in E Minor (1873) by Giuseppe Verdi (below) opens with restrained moodiness, but the drama quickly leaps off the page. Written to pass the time while waiting for the delayed opening of his opera “Aida,” this quartet demonstrates Verdi’s mastery of purely instrumental writing — although the cello solo in the Trio of the Scherzo could pass for a tenor aria. The work ends, surprisingly, with an elaborate fugue.

The quartet is gearing up for four performances in September, listed below.

In related news, the Ancora String Quartet, like the Madison Bach Musicians, will become a Resident Ensemble at the First Unitarian Society of Madison (FUS) starting this fall. We are pleased to reconnect with our FUS audiences, and hope our Regent Street fans will make the trip as well.

Here is the September schedule of the Italian program:

  • This Friday, Sept. 6, from noon to 1 p.m. in an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Midday with host Norman Gilliland. WPR is Madison station WERN 88.7 FM. The ASQ will perform the entire Bazzini quartet.
  • This Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the FUS, Landmark Auditorium, Madison. Tickets at the door are $15 for the general public, $12 for seniors and $6 for students.
  • Sunday, Sept. 8, at 3 p.m. at FUS, Landmark Auditorium, Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison. Tickets at the door are $15, $12 and $6.
  • Next Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Germantown Community Library, N112W16957 Mequon Rd., in Germantown. The concert is FREE and open to the public.


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3 Comments »

  1. It seems Bazzini was a protoge of Paganini: listening to his super virtuoso piece for violin, La ronde des lutins, one can see that.

    By the way, it’s played over at YouTube by Heiffitz (2 recordings and in my opinion second is the best version ever), Istaac Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin and other violin greats.

    Here’s the incomparable J. Heiffitz (in the first version, Heiffitz is 17 years old):

    Comment by fflambeau — September 3, 2019 @ 5:14 am

  2. Bazzini is a really nice find; very talented and lots of chamber music.

    Gorgeous works for piano and violin on a CD, Vol. 2 of his chamber works by Luigi Albero Bianchi, Violin and Aldo Orvieto, Piano (Dynamic Label). Good recording sound and excellent playing. 361 thumbs up only 6 down over at YouTube:

    Comment by fflambeau — September 3, 2019 @ 4:23 am

  3. It’s nice to see am emphasis on music from Italy; remember that Mozart and many other Northerners always considered sunny Italy as the birthplace (and spring source) of classical music. As late as Mendelssohn, a trip to Italy for classical music was considered mandatory.

    Good choices and unusual ones since all of these people are more familiar in the opera world (with the exception, apparently of Bazzini, of whom I know litte).

    Comment by fflambeau — September 3, 2019 @ 1:02 am


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