Festival Strings Lucerne
As it was written when Mendelssohn was only fourteen, one may initially write off the work as being overly Classical, formal, and having a “cuckoo” motif. However, beyond the first movement, Mendelssohn offers a canvas of distinctive material that is continually developed. The 52-year-old ensemble conducted by Artistic Director Achim Fiedler especially cherished the second-movement Andante with a perfect, wafty tempo and the conveyance of endless lines (never individual notes) in the movement’s first section, for violins only. The cleverly contrasting second section for bass, celli, and violas contained gushing suspensions and counterpoint so strict Bach would have approved; the work continually looks forward and backward. The statuesque, yet free composure and frequent eye contact between ensemble members contributed to the overall sense that there was nowhere else in the world the musicians wanted to be. The audience was further convinced of the musicians’ genuine enthusiasm when ensemble members began to vigorously “whoohoo” concertmaster Daniel Dodd’s fun performance of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, arranged for strings by Caspar Diethelm.
Dodd’s Stradivari “ex Rudolf Baumbartner” instrument from 1717 had a sweet, focused sound nearly able to equal the lyricism of the human voice. Dodd’s wide ranges of expressivity and dynamics were welcome and made up for any issues with harmonics in the Sarasate. The audience and ensemble coaxed an intense encore out of Dodd in Ysaye’s Ballade, which wanders through violin techniques and styles ranging from Franck-like harmonic language and lyricism to neo-Classical material.
The second half of the program began with stellen, a new work for 14 stringed instruments by Dieter Ammann (b. 1962), which is based on the flowing development of contrasting ideas. Techniques of bridge and bass smacking (making the bass a type of drum) helped maintain coherence in the overall balance of the work, where contrasting material by ensemble sections created an intriguing perpetual movement while always being tidy.
Robert Battey, Festival Strings Lucerne (Washington Post, October 21)
Overall, the performance showcased a continental steadiness and composure one wishes to hear more of from American ensembles. This cool confidence and low-maintenance technical approach to music making is more sustainable for the performers and more likely to put an audience at ease. The Festival Strings Lucerne were proud of their performance; their audience was likewise proud to have been in attendance.
This Sunday's free concert at the National Gallery of Art will feature the superlative Wiener Klaviertrio (October 26, 6:30 pm). It is likely to be one of the best concerts of the museum's fall schedule.