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12.3.04

Marcy Rosen & Co. at the Library of Congress (The Bat Strikes Again)

With much anticipation did I await the concert at the Library of Congress on Friday, March 5. The Mendelssohn String Quartet was billed with a program of Joseph Haydn's "Emperor" quartet (from which the German national anthem is taken), Seattle-born 66-year-old composer William Bolcom, and, of course, a quartet of their namesake composer. The Mendelssohn String Quartet, formerly the quartet in residence at Harvard and now at the North Carolina School of Arts, have a strong commitment to contemporary music and are highly regarded in the United States. Second violinist Nicholas Mann is the son of Robert Mann, the long-time first violinist of the Juilliard Quartet, who has an enthusiastic following in Washington from his many years at the Library of Congress.

First violinist Miriam Fried, a 1999 addition to the quartet, champions a chiffon cape that is an Art Nouveau dream in pink and black. And who is that behind the cello? It is founding member Marcy Rosen, who has just recently appeared at the Library with the Juilliard Quartet in their final performance of the Beethoven string quartet cycle, giving those four gentlemen the necessary support for the Schubert string quintet (see my review for Ionarts). She returns and so does her "bat"—the oddly colorful cape that so inspired my fantasy the last time. Daniel Panne is the newest member of the group and is not even mentioned yet on the quartet's Web site. He looks as though he had traded a CEO's briefcase for his viola just seconds before the performance. Nicholas Mann, meanwhile, bears (the more I think about it, the more certain I am) an uncanny resemblance to Ionarts' very own Charles Downey. He is engaged but oddly stiff and makes fairly unflattering grimaces while the women go about their music business adamantly and seriously.

The first piece in which that was to be observed turned out to be Haydn's earlier work, the String Quartet in F Minor, op. 20, no. 5—the fifth of the six "Sun" Quartets. It is an example of the true birth of the genre: these quartets are often referred to as the beginning of the sonata style by musicologists like Donald Tovey and Charles Rosen. Tovey is quoted in the program notes (by Tomás C. Hernández) describing the set of "Sun" Quartets as a "sunrise over the domain of sonata style as well as quartets in particular." Discuss.

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