Chacony in G minor [arr. Britten 1948, rev. 1963]
Quintet in D minor, H.49 [rev. 1912]
Chad Hoopes & Danbi Um (violins), Hsin-Yun Huang (viola), David Requiro (cello) & Shai Wosner (piano)
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 18 November, 2021
Venue: Rose Studio, Lincoln Center, New York City
This neatly-conceived program, the second in the 2021-22 Rose Studio Season of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, traversed more than two centuries of British music in under an hour, bringing together works by three composers connected through association, inspiration, and influence. Henry Purcell provided long-lasting musical inspiration for Benjamin Britten who arranged several of the Baroque master’s compositions and based some of his own music on themes created by him. Frank Bridge also had an enduring influence on Britten who was his pupil in the late 1920s and later paid homage to him in his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.
The concert opened with the Chacony in G minor for string quartet, a six-minute piece composed by Purcell circa 1678. Believed to have originated as theater music, the original score provided very few instructions for players. In 1948, two-hundred-and-seventy years after its composition, Britten took on the task of updating it with interpretive markings in an arrangement for string quartet. The four players performed the stately and lyrical music with notable intensity, faultless intonation, and remarkable transparency of line.
Next came the most appealing and powerful work on the playbill: Britten’s Three Divertimenti. Composed in 1933, when Britten was only twenty, the ten-minute piece illustrates several essential features of his more mature style – distorted and engaging tonalities, bristling rhythms, glissandos, and imaginative counterpoint – to name just a few.
The suite had its origins as a five-movement set of musical portraits of Britten’s school friends entitled Alla Quartetto Serioso: ‘Go play, boy, play’ (the subtitle is a quotation from A Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s strongest depictions of male jealousy), but in the end the composer completed only three. As performed, the strongly contrasting Divertimenti came off as perfectly vibrant and compelling. The first, ‘March’, was fresh and exuberant; the second, second, ‘Waltz’, was relaxed, graceful, and charmingly nostalgic; and the third, ‘Burlesque’, with its many rapid, repetitive passages, was bursting with tension and excitement.
The final offering of the evening was Bridge’s Piano Quintet, composed in 1904-05. It was originally constructed in four movements, but in 1912 the composer returned to the score and did a comprehensive revision – merging the two inner movements to trim the total down to three, reducing the huge piano part, and re-introducing themes from the first movement Adagio into the final Allegro. The resulting piece embodies an agreeable blend of late romantic and early modernist musical influences, and on this occasion the musicians, delivered a fresh, flexible, and assured performance of this pleasantly lyrical post-romantic score.