By Alex Pijanowski, Staff Writer
The concert given on Sunday, April 20 by the Chase Quartet, Kenyon’s resident virtuosic string players, concluded a memorable year-long run in a farewell performance that was itself full of goodbyes The foursome includes Andrew Stewart ’15 on first violin; Alayne Wegner ’17 on second violin; David Hoyt ’14, who is also the Collegian’s chief copy editor, on viola; and Jeremy Fuller ’14 on cello. As usual, they took the stage in Brandi Recital Hall with poise and dignity, bedecked in conservative black and white dress clothes. However, when they presented works by two great composers, they spared no intensity.
The evening’s program led off with the String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27, by the preeminent 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Predominantly known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, some of his “Lyric Pieces” for piano and, of course, those staples of advertising culture, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and “Morning Mood” from his Peer Gynt suites. Grieg’s venture into chamber music was a surprising and impressive foray by both Grieg’s musicianship and those interpreting his handiwork.
Stewart and Wegner set a strong example from the beginning with a confident yet gentle interpretation of the somewhat mournful main melody. Though the Grieg quartet alternates between many styles, including an Italian dance, and time signatures, the members played each movement with remarkable consistency.
The second of the two pieces was the String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110 of the 20th-century Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich. This work, dedicated “To the Victims of Fascism and the War,” was bound to be emotionally turbulent. Besides memorializing World War II victims, one of Shostakovich’s close friends once suggested that the quartet was intended to be the composer’s suicide note, although he died of lung cancer 15 years after it premiered.
The quartet’s rendition of the piece was of such singular quality that it transformed my conception of its composer — although I previously listed Shostakovich as among my least favorite musicians, I became more receptive to his music after hearing this quartet. I was especially struck by the mellifluous melodies interpreted by Hoyt on the viola and Fuller on the cello, which demonstrated the complexity of Shostakovich’s music and the all-around musical talent of the group.
“Whenever we play through [the Shostakovich] piece, it’s emotionally draining,” Stewart said. “Whenever we [play it], we’re in a heightened emotional state.”
A few moments after the last note had died away, Hoyt announced that the group would play an encore piece. A handful of plucked notes sounded before the quartet began playing a version of “Kokosing Farewell,” arranged by Professor of Music Ben Locke. The quartet executed this bonus piece just as well as their main program.
“I thought, especially because the Shostakovich ends so sadly, it was nice to have something after that” Hoyt said. Stewart added that “[Kokosing Farewell] is so intimately tied to Kenyon, and also especially significant because of [Hoyt] and [Fuller] graduating. One thing I want to make clear, though, is that sadness was not the key emotion.”
Stewart said the quartet may perform once or twice more before the year ends, although such performances would be “certainly, nothing on the level of the concert we just finished.” One possibility is an impromptu concert in Peirce Hall Tower. If one should happen to hear the dulcet strains of string music echoing in Peirce during finals week, it may be the final hurrah of the Chase Quartet.
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