Scharwenka, Schubert Open Le Salon Season

By James M. GARREN

One hundred and five years after its birth in 1910, Le Salon de Musiques welcomed the U.S. premier of Phillip Scharwenka’s String Quartet in D minor Op 117 courtesy of Francois Chouchan, founder and artistic director of Le Salon de Musiques. Also on Sunday’s program were “Quartettsatz” and “Rosamunde” by Franz Schubert. The performances by Jessica Guideri, violin, Erik Arvinder, violin, Rob Brophy, viola and John Walz, cello were presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

The first movement of “Rosamunde,” the second piece played on Sunday, is in sonata form, which has three basic sections: exposition, development and recapitulation. The exposition states the piece’s main two themes then repeats it to acquaint the listener further. The development section plunges in with the composer’s creativity and show of mastery. This is the section of exploration when the composer transforms and plays with the melodies introduced. The recapitulation is basically the repetition of the exposition (although many composers, especially from Beethoven onward, used this as an opportunity to have a changed exposition to show the transformation of the movement’s journey).

In this first movement Schubert has a strong introduction that does not allow anyone to escape; it pulls listeners in letting them know they are about to start a crazy ride. The piece is multi-faceted, and reflects thoughtful sadness and frantic fear, as well as pride and assurance in its harmonic structure. John Walz on the cello showed his expertise, playing the piece both painfully yet hopefully, reaching and pulling. He holds a note too long, a wise choice in setting up the tense question mark of what will happen next. Then comes the development section of the sonata form with a fugue. The composition bounces around a musical idea of four notes rising up to the tonic (the main key of the movement).  This brings a springy urgency to the piece, almost as if the melody keeps rising, in sharp gasps, toward a resolution that it cannot grasp; once it’s there it falls right back to the note lunging back up to reach it again. It’s also just old-fashioned fun.

The surprisingly short development section slipped into the recapitulation as Walz kept long, tasty sustained notes on the cello. This grounded the song no matter where the violins and viola tried to fly. The piece bounced around displaying a dazzling assortment of emotions, going from anxiety to excitement, pride to fear, down to flat-out fun. But after all the tempestuous twists and turns, all the speedy revolutions, the ride calms. The instruments huddle together, coming to a quiet and sudden consensus. This ride, all these questions and confusions, lead to an inescapable reality, and all is surrendered as the piece ends in solemnity. Schubert is alone.

The second movement arrives refreshed and ready for action. The start, with its dancelike feel and pastoral imagery, fools the listener into thinking the storm is over and all is safe. But it quickly slips back into question marks and strife. At first it appears that the performers didn’t achieve the springy childish potential of the piece; however, after the intensity of the first movement, it is hard to do a 180-degree turn and be giddily joyous and, perhaps, especially since it falls right into the former frantic spirit, it is supposed to be an unsure giddy excitement.

The lyrical third movement delights, presenting a sense of floating in a pleasant space though it never forgets its roots of horror. The movement offers a moment of calm and almost happiness. Schubert does provide interesting chord transitions that lead us toward hope and sadness simultaneously. There is a rising chord progression, which perhaps Bernard Herrmann attempted to achieve in parts of his “Psycho” film score, that leads right into the main melodic wanderings of the piece with the mastery of Erik Arvinder and Jessica Guideri on the violin.

The performance continued with the premier of Scharwenka’s String Quartet in D minor, with violinists Guideri and Arvinder, violist Brophy and cellist Walz delighting in their virtuosic treatment of their interpretation.