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Calidore String Quartet: Restraint & Passion

Calidore String Quartet
The Millbrook Independent

At the third and last of three Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle concerts, Calidore String Quartet, a young ensemble who just won the $100, 000 chamber music M-award from the University of Michigan, performed at Bard’s Olin Hall. Previously from Los Angeles, they are currently artists-in-residence at Stony Brook (SUNY). They also perform for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Calidore opened with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quartet in D major, K.575. Adept at entrances and exits, they smoothly communicated intimate unity. I admired the elegant performance, yet thought that it was somewhat cautious, safe, and restrained. My friend David came up with the more appropriate word: “refined.”

They next performed Sergei Rachmaninoff’s only string quartet, a posthumously published piece. Rachmaninoff had composed it as a student studying under Tchaikovsky, whom obviously influenced the piece. Rich in melody, the piece was intensely lyrical, poetic. The third movement concluded with wry, self-mocking humor, which evoked laughter from the sophisticated audience.

Felix Mendelssohn's String Quartet In E-flat major, op. 44, no. 3, composed in 1838, is one of three quartets dedicated to the Crown Prince of Sweden when Mendelssohn was at the peak of his creative powers. They noted that this particular piece was rarely ever played in concerts, and that it had more notes per bar than any other Mendelssohn quartet.

While the quartet presents a re-engagement with conservative classical form, the first and fourth movements brim with Romantic passion, and it was that exciting, riveting passion the Calidore String Quartet captured with great enthusiasm. Repetition of simple motifs builds to Romantic transcendence. Intellectually, the fleet, light, third movement Scherzo, evoking storm-like passages, appears to be the most original invention in the composition, and here Estelle Choi's cello bass line was memorably haunting. This quartet was clearly in love with Mendelssohn's music: infectiously so!

After two appreciative bows to the audience, Calidore emerged to play an encore. The encore tradition presumably offers a genial or jovial party piece to please a crowd. Bucking this successful tradition, Calidore played Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet no. 6 in F minor, Mendelssohn’s lament for his sister Fanny’s death. While the general structure of this piece parallels the previous piece they played, the measured classicism recedes to a portrait of palpable anguish. The slow elegiac movement paradoxically provides a soothing, yet temporary relief. The manic, even convulsive lines of the opening and closing movements offer no consolation. The syncopation of the second movement remains wondrously original. While this was Mendelssohn’s last major work, it sounds as if he is inventing a whole new musical language. 

Read the rest of the review here