May 5 & 6, 2019

The Artistry of Trifonov & The Ariel Quartet

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Artists

Daniil Trifonov, piano*
ARIEL QUARTET
Gershon Gerchikov, violin
Alexandra Kazovsky, violin
Jan Grüning, viola
Amit En-Tov, cello
 

Program

Webern

Brahms

D. Trifonov

Five Movements for String Quartet

String Quartet in A minor, No. 2 Op. 51

Quintet for Piano & Strings


Experience the artistry and brilliance of pianist-composer, Daniil Trifonov. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to hear this legend in the making in Linton’s intimate setting after his Music Hall performances with the CSO. The program will include the Cincinnati premiere of his own Piano Quintet performed with the celebrated Ariel Quartet.

*Linton is grateful to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for helping to make possible the appearance of Daniil Trifonov who performs with the CSO on May 3 & 4, 2019.

Program Notes

Anton Webern (1883 – 1945)

Five Movements for String Quartet, Op. 5

Webern wrote the Op. 5 Five Movements in the spring of 1909, the year after he had been given his first official musical post. A pick-up group gave the Movements their first performance on February 8, 1910. Along with his contemporaries Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg, Webern was continuing his explorations of atonality. Yet in the Op. 5 we can see Webern beginning to incorporate the spare gestures and concision of thought which became so pronounced in his works of the early 1910s.

With one foot firmly in the late Romantic and the other pointing towards Webern’s later, more abstract, style, the Five Movements for String Quartet represents the first step toward a distillation of the aesthetic of Wagner and Strauss. Broad melodic inspirations are still to be found here, but the lush supporting textures one might find in the music of Webern’s predecessors have been removed, lending a more intimate and almost haunting quality to some of these lines.

Though the Five Movements were the height of modernity when they were new, Webern still thought of them as old-fashioned in their ability to communicate emotions. Despite their strikingly modern harmony, rhythm, and instrumental sonority, the Five Movements are formally indebted to traditional models. The opening movement is an enormously compressed sonata structure. The tiny main theme, heard immediately, comprises just the upward leap of a minor ninth, while the second subject is a slower, legato strain in the low strings. The development begins with a pizzicato passage before the recapitulation returns to a phrase reminiscent of the second theme and then the opening interval motive, inverted. The slow second movement follows an arch shape, starting at a whisper, rising through wispy melodic fragments, and ending in near inaudibility. The animated third movement is in the nature of a scherzo. The fourth movement matches the second in length and softness, though its mood is one of even greater mystery. The closing movement is divided into two parts: the first is built above an undulating melody in the low strings while the second murmurs tiny melodic fragments until the music fades into silence.

Overall the five movements comprise a musical arch. The first and final movements are the most substantial, both formally and in sheer musical content. The second and fourth movements are both slower and more delicate that the movements surrounding them and present bittersweet melodies full of sighs and whispers. The central movement can be seen as the emotional climax of the work. Though extremely brief, the third movement is a musical portrait of dread and anxiety that draws a brief, but powerful, moment of existential terror. This clean symmetry and formal structure provides an early demonstration of Webern’s true mastery of adapting traditional structures and styles to his more modern aesthetic.

 

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

String Quartet in A minor, No. 2, Op. 51 

Brahms was slow to venture into the realm of string quartets. He was forty when his pair of Op. 51 quartets was published and had reportedly destroyed the manuscripts to at least twenty quartets prior to this first set. He seemed equally intimidated and inspired by the enduring legacy on the genre created by both Beethoven and Mozart, explaining his slow progress to a publisher in 1869, Brahms wrote that as Mozart had taken “particular trouble” over the six “beautiful” Haydn Quartets, he intended to do his “very best to turn out one or two passably decent ones.” As ever, Brahms’s meticulous perfectionism led to a pair of fully-realized quartets that have stood the test of time alongside the predecessors from whom he drew inspiration.

Loneliness pervades the A minor quartet. In fact, the main motif of the opening movement quotes the motto of Brahms’ great friend and inspiration Joseph Joachim: Frei aber einsam (“Free but lonely”). The initial letters, F-A-E, are the second through fourth pitches of the four-note motif that saturates the first movement. Inspired by Joachim, Brahms chose as his motto F-A-F, Frei, aber froh (“Free, but glad”), and also wove these notes into the musical texture.

The quartet opens with this gracefully arching F-A-E theme, followed by a three-note upbeat, which also appears later in the theme of the last movement. The development section is an outstanding display of polyphony filled with canons, inversions, and retrograde motion, in which the melody is imitated, turned upside down, and played backward. At the start of the recapitulation, the viola plays the Brahms three-note F-A-F motto; just before the coda, the second violin plays F-A-F overlapped with Joachim’s F-A-E.

The first violin sings the warmly lyrical theme of the second movement over a sinuous line in the viola and cello. As this melody is extended, the first violin and cello, in canon, interrupt with an outburst that is almost operatic in character. After a false return to this melody in the violin, the cello concludes the movement with a return on the main theme. The Quasi minuetto puts Brahms’ skills on full display. The calm flow of the movement is interrupted by two sparkling interludes, each of which feature canons, augmentations, inversions, and variations on the minuetto theme in a staggering display of technical composition.

The Finale sparkles with the musical and rhythmic energy of a czardos, a fast, wild Hungarian dance. Alternating with the varied statements of the czardas tune is a relaxed, waltzlike melodic strain. The coda starts with the cello and first violin giving out the opening melody slowly and quietly in canon; then the entire quartet plays it even more softly, with notes of longer duration. Eventually, the four instruments pick up speed and volume, bringing the music to a brilliant conclusion.

 

Daniil Trifonov (1991 – )

Quintet for Piano & Strings

Today’s performance marks the Cincinnati premiere of Daniil Trifonov’s Quintet for Piano and Strings. The quintet received its world premiere on July 29, 2018 at the Verbier Festival and is scheduled to receive its New York premiere later this year with Trifonov with the New York Philharmonic String Quartet.

Musically, the quintet seems a spiritual fit for today’s program. Like the Brahms, it represents an early exploration of the genre by a skilled musician well-versed in the works of his predecessors yet possessing his own style. Like the Webern, the quintet straddles stylistic periods – at times beautifully melodic and at others truly atonal and driven solely by repeated motifs and rhythms.

Structurally, the quintet follows a path from tumultuous to transcendent. The work opens with an ominous figure in the piano that is immediately repeated by the strings. This kicks off an extended passage of increasing tension as the piano is pitted against the quartet and swirling melodic figures are set in competing ascending and descending patterns. Fragments of a melody in the violin eventually break through before they are once again swept aside by driving rhythmic patterns that accelerate to a sudden stop before quickly presenting a slower, more lyrical closing passage.

The second section opens with a playful theme that strikes the ear as a distortion of classical melody. This central section is marked by false starts and abrupt pauses as the ensemble moves through staggering, fragmented attempts at revisiting the melody before eventually finding its footing and restating the opening theme. From here, the quintet moves into its most straightforward lyrical passage. A spare melody passes through each instrument as the quintet gradually rises to an ethereal pitch; peaking as the piano states the melody above twinkling string figurations. Seemingly caught at last by gravity, the quintet begins a gradual descent that builds into a downward spiral. As the rhythmic intensity builds, the descent transitions into more of a sprint through a long section of driving rhythms that pushes to a fever pitch before abruptly halting to make way for a lush section of soaring melodies in all five parts. Here, the melody grows to a transcendent, lush climax before dropping to a melancholy but nonetheless hopeful and understated conclusion.