The Copeland String Quartet opened their eleventh season at the Church of the Holy City in Wilmington with three unusual compositions – three chamber pieces by composers who were not known for their chamber music – Hugo Wolf, Giacomo Puccini, and Giuseppe Verdi.
The Italian Serenade by Hugo Wolf is a lively seven-minute dance which the composer wrote after being inspired by Joseph Eichendorff’s novella Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts. Wolf had been writing songs using Eichendorff’s romantic poem, Der Soldat I, in which he imitates the language of courtship with the cello as the voice of the soldier and the second violin as the voice of his intended. Spontaneous and whimsical, the work requires the nimble responses of the cello and second violin which Mark Ward, cello and Tom Jackson, second violin pulled off.
Crisantemi by Giacomo Puccini is a funeral piece, yet it sounded lush and romantic. (Did Rachmaninov use this as inspiration for his Vocalise?) The theme will be familiar to operagoers as Puccini used it years later in Manon Lescaut. Eliezer Gutman, first violin, must have been a gypsy in a former life as he manages to play with every repetition of the theme and make it different, yet free and flowing. The writing allows each of the instruments to bring in their harmonies and wrap them around the theme. The inner voices (Tom Jackson, second violin and Nina Cottman, viola) start a patterned rumble which resembles a pianistic Alberti bass as the voices start the secondary theme. The eleven years of working together gives the Copeland the magic of phrasing, ritardandi and dynamic changes which seem to be innate rather than planned.
The third work on the program was the meatier String Quartet in E Minor by Giuseppe Verdi. This is a long and beautifully structured work which the mature composer threw together while delayed in Naples waiting for his soprano, Teresa Stolz, to recover from an illness in the midst of performing Aida. He wrote his quartet, invited musicians to his hotel to play it through without ceremony.
Verdi gives the second violin the lead in the first movement, played with a light, almost alto-like quality by Tom Jackson. When the first violin comes in, it sounds like the soprano has joined the aria. The writing moves to a full, almost orchestral backdrop, where the quartet feels like a full orchestra. The third movement, Prestissimo, has a delicious cello aria accompanied by the other strings’ pizzicato creating a guitar-like accompaniment.
The encore was the Andante Espressivo from Felix Mendelssohn’s Quartet in D Major, Opus 44, Nr. 1. First violinist Eliezer Gutman’s liquid melodic lines floated above the almost fugal harmonies. The Copeland Quartet obviously knows this piece well as they have recorded it, yet the performance was fresh and playful.
The Church of the Holy City has wonderful acoustics which reverberate the sound, but the group has also found another performance site in Pennsylvania where the sound is so good they have been using it for recording. The next concert in this new series at All Saints Episcopal Church at 1325 Montgomery Avenue will start on November 24 at 4 pm. For more information about the quartet’s performances and recordings, see www.copelandstringquartet.com.