Friday, July 9, 2010

Heights Arts: La Dolce Vino (House Concert Series)

Puccini: I crisantemi, elegy for string quartet
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18
Verdi: String Quartet in E Minor
Traditional: Happy Birthday for String Quartet
Sonja Braaten, Miho Hashizume, Isabel Trautwein, violin and viola; Tanya Ell, cello; Charles Carleton, bass; Owen Molloy, Sommelier
at The Barrie Residence, Cleveland Heights

I've been a fan of the Heights Arts house concert series ever since I accidentally stumbled across a listing for one and figured I'd check it out. The concerts bring great musicians -- typically members of The Cleveland Orchestra -- into the intimacy of a living room, where the immersion into the music adds a tangible flavor.

Tonight's concert featured a number of firsts: The first piece to include an upright bass; the first to feature wines paired with the selections; and the first house concert that a friend who accompanied me attended. We both had a great time, and it was fun to get a fresh perspective on the music and the wine.

The program opened with a dry sparkling wine (Presto Proscecco Brut) and Puccini's rather somber elegy -- apparently written in one evening as a memorial. The wine was good, though a bit dry for my tastes. The music though somber was amazing; the addition of the bass in such an intimate setting added to an already rich sound with vibrations entering through the ears, feet, and even chest.

Next in sequence was the Clean Slate Riesling and Beethoven's 2nd String Quartet from Opus 18 ("the quartet of bows and curtsies"), both were quite tasty, but I will admit that the nickname escapes me. Following an extended intermission, the program officially finished with Verdi's String Quartet in E Minor -- composed during a delay in the production of his Aida caused by his tenor's sudden illness*. In introducing the piece, Ms. Braaten remarked that the piece was a bit of a "study" for the composer, Ms. Trautwein remarked that the composer was trying to torture musicians.

Listening to the ambitious end of the fourth movement (Scherzo Fuga, with the tempo notation Allegro assai mosso), there can be no doubt as to the truth of that statement, and once again demonstrates the skill of the musicians we had the privilege of hearing. I think my favorite bars of the program can be found as a waltz late in the piece.

The evening was rounded out with a rousing string quartet rendition of Happy Birthday to celebrate the gracious host for the evening, Mr. Barrie's, birthday.

I found it interesting that both Ms. Trautwein and Ms. Braaten, while members of the Cleveland Orchestra's First and Second violin sections, respectively, took turns at the viola during the course of this evening's program. I don't recall seeing this hand off in previous concerts, and it seems a further demonstration of talent to seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly go from one musical voice to the other in the same program.

* - In an odd turn of events, the performance of this piece was delayed at tonight's concert by the sudden illness of an audience member.

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