The Well-Tempered Ear

Madison’s Sonata à Quattro performs TONIGHT online for the prestigious Boston Early Music Festival

June 17, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from the local early music group, Sonata à Quattro (SAQ):

We have a very exciting announcement to share.

Tonight we will be one of the featured ensembles at the 2021 Boston Early Music Festival Fringe Concerts!

The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) is recognized as a national and international leader in the field of early music, and SAQ is thrilled to make its first appearance at this event. 

Concert presented during the Boston Early Music Festival’s 2021 Fringe Concerts.  Learn more at https://bemf.org/2021-festival/fringe-concerts/

The online premiere of the SAQ concert video will be TONIGHT — Thursday, June 17 — at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT, and the musicians will be available to chat during and after the recorded performance.

Please join us at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSfzu6Q6DcU

The 50-minute concert, titled “Musical Meditation and Merriment,” features (below, from left) violinists Christine Hauptly Annin and Leanne League; cellist Charlie Rasmussen; and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt.

This period-instrument quartet will perform the following program: Quartet in G Major, TWV 43:G5 by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); Duo II in D Minor, Op. 19, No. 2, for Violin and Viola by Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812); Duetto III in G Major, Op. 1, No. 3, for Violin and Cello by Giovanni Battista Cirri (1724-1808, below); and Quartet in D Major, Op. 64, No. “The Lark” by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).

The concert was live-streamed and recorded at the United Methodist Church in Whitefish Bay, Wis., on April 13, 2021.

From the austere fugal opening of the Telemann to the jaunty Finale of Haydn’s “Lark” Quartet — heard played by the Jerusalem Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom — this program offers a reflection on the unimaginable year we’ve just experienced, as well as the stirrings of hope, as we awake to a spring and summer of new beginnings.

The slow movements, with their gorgeous string sonorities, range from still, inner contemplation to poignant pleas, while the fast movements outdo one another in wit, verve and sheer joie de vivre.


Posted in Classical music
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Classical music: A veteran reviewer bids farewell with a rave review of this summer’s last concert by the Willy Street Chamber Players and UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor

July 29, 2019
18 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a very special posting, the final review that will be written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker.

Barker (below), who is dealing with medical issues, is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who wrote for The Capital Times, Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who, until two weeks ago, hosted an early music show once a month on a Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gave pre-concert lectures in Madison.

Please use the comment section to join The Ear in thanking Barker for his many years of public service and wishing him well.

By John W. Barker

I had to miss the first concert this summer by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) on July 12; and the next one, on July 19, was cancelled because of power failures. But the final one, last Friday night, was well worth waiting for — one of the really memorable events of the year, I think.

The program, performed at the usual near East Side venue of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, began with some short items.

First, there was a set of Three Nocturnes (1924) for piano trio — violin, cello and piano — by Ernest Bloch. They contain elements of the Hebraic sound that Bloch cultivated but also had their own individualities, the first two contemplative and the third marked “tempestuoso.” Interesting was Bloch’s alternating uses of muting the strings.

After this came an example of the short pieces for string quartet by the contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery, her “Voodoo Dolls” (2008). Much is packed into this five-minute piece. A few lyrical touches aside, it sounded like a hoedown gone crazy, full of quite novel sounds, including rhythmic thumping on the wood of the instruments.

All that was a curtain-raiser to the big event of the program: the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81, by Antonin Dvorak. This 40-minute work is one of the composer’s best-known chamber music compositions, and one of the standouts in the whole chamber music literature.

The very opening notes of the first movement bring a flood of warm well-being.  (After hearing just that, I commented, “I haven’t felt such happiness in months.”)

The fecundity and richness of invention pervaded the entire work. For me, its high point is the second movement, in which Dvorak (below) used the Czech formula of the dumka, a kind of folk music lament that is paced slow-fast-slow-fast. (You can hear the Dumka movement, played by the Jerusalem Quartet and pianist Stefan Vladar, in the YouTube video below.)

Dvorak liked to play viola in chamber music, and so he always wrote some good things for himself. The sublime passages for viola in this movement were played with such transcendent beauty by Rachael Hauser (below) – who is leaving Madison for New York City — that I felt I was hearing the composer’s voice directly. Put simply, this was one of the greatest examples of chamber-music performance that I have ever heard.

All of the players, many of whom play in the Madison Symphony Orchestra,  of course matched remarkable skill with humane vitality and vibrancy.

And a measure of the Willys’ standards was the fact that they were able to draw as a partner no less than that magnificent UW-Madison music school pianist, Christopher Taylor (below), who also performed the same Dvorak Piano Quintet in the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he won a bronze medal. Much of his excellence here was demonstrated by the fact that he did not play the star, but joined with the Willys in perfect collegial integration.

This ends the Willy Street group’s fifth summer season. As a symbol of vibrancy and fresh spirit, they are among the most important of Madison’s classical music world today. They have drawn steadily growing audiences, and the house was truly packed for this concert.  We can only hope that they will continue to brighten that world in the years ahead.

I am now ending my time as a music critic. I can think of no more satisfying a final review to write than of the Willy Street Chamber Players.


Posted in Classical music
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