Hohenstaufen Quartet is fine finale for Rilling

  • Jul 15, 2013
Terry McQuilkin From The Register-Guard July 15, 2013   2013-0713-Hohenstaufen-qtetIt was fitting that the final chamber music concert of the 44th Oregon Bach Festival — Helmuth Rilling’s last as artistic director —featured two members of the Rilling family. The Hohenstaufen Quartet (named after the family’s hilltop retreat) includes Helmuth’s daughters, violinist Rahel and violist Sara Rilling, and a pair of brothers, violinist Gabriel and cellist Dávid Adorján. Only two compositions were on the agenda the quartet brought to the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall on Saturday evening, both of them very much part of the standard repertoire, which wasn’t surprising, given this year’s emphasis on major works in the musical canon. The program opened with Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in A minor, D. 804 (“Rosamunde”), written four years before the composer’s death. The four musicians proved effective collaborators in bringing out the opening movement’s intense pathos and emotional volatility, as well as the gentle lyricism found in all four movements, particularly the songlike second, whose main melody was taken from incidental music Schubert had written for Helmina von Chézy’s play, “Rosamunde.” Rahel Rilling, sitting in the first violinist’s chair, had frequent opportunities to demonstrate her warm, vibrant tone and expressive phrasing, though all four deserve high marks for their fervent playing and sensitivity. Schubert’s chamber music can be a bit perilous, as the composer had a habit of writing passages where two players have to play in unison or an octave apart, thus exposing even the smallest tuning imprecision. And there were a few passages of tuning imperfection, as well as some rhythmically asynchronous moments. Given that the Hohenstaufen is not a full-time quartet, that isn’t entirely surprising. It takes many, many hours of rehearsing and performing for four players to develop the kind of unanimity of approach that the top tier quartets achieve. With that in mind, I’m impressed that the foursome made such a cogent case for the A-minor Quartet. After intermission, the players returned to offer Antonín Dvorák’s Quartet in F, op. 96 (“American”). To this most popular of the composer’s string quartets, the Hohenstaufen brought the same level of zeal and urgency that they had put into the Schubert piece. Happily, intonation problems seemed to be less frequent. The Czech composer wrote the quartet during his residency in the United States while serving as director of the newly founded National Conservatory. Folklike melodies have confirmed to many writers the “American” influences (real or assumed) of the piece. The simple tune that forms the basis of the slow second movement (several of the work’s melodies are based on pentatonic, or five-note, scales) gave Gabriel Adorján, who played first violin this time, a chance to demonstrate his pure sound and poetic phrasing. The ensemble brought a good deal of energy and dynamism to the faster movements, particularly the third (“Molto vivace”) and the finale (“Vivace ma non troppo”). An as encore, the quartet offered one of Astor Piazzolla’s most beloved compositions, an arrangement of “Adiós Nonino,” which they delivered with the right mix of rhythmic drive, lyricism and sentimentality. Terry McQuilkin, an adjunct instructor of composition at the University of Oregon, reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.