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Auryn Quartett, Part 2

Excerpt from Mozart string quintet in C major, K. 515, first movement
Excerpt from Mozart string quintet in C major, K. 515, first movement
The exceptional trio of concerts brought to the Washington area by the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences this month continued on Sunday afternoon. Just like last Sunday's concert and the final installment next Sunday, this concert at Bethesda's Congregation Beth El by the Auryn Quartett plus violist Roger Tapping combined two Mozart string quintets with one Britten string quartet. The result after three weeks will be an unusual achievement, a complete cycle of both sets. One or the other would be worth hearing: together, the program should be irresistible. Sad, therefore, that the series is not full to capacity.

This week's concert began with the other relatively early quintet, K. 406 in C minor, which Mozart reworked from a wind serenade, K. 388, from 1782. It is a somber work with a few sunny turns and an abundance of contrapuntal complexity. After an earnest unison opening and dark first theme in the first movement, the Auryn Quartett and Tapping handled the marvelous transition to the major-key second theme -- one of those light-filled moments -- with grace and appropriate vigor in the closing theme. In the development, we hear Mozart experimenting again with Baroque suspensions and harmonic twists, lovely dissonance that echoes many similar moments in the early Mozart quartets and divertimenti (in my ears recently in the fine recording by the Cuarteto Casals). The rewrite of the second theme in the recapitulation, which must end in minor, is just as memorably a turn back to the shadows. A divinely melancholy second movement and an austerely canonic menuetto and trio (the latter an improbable inverted canon) followed, capped off by the variations of the final movement, alternately enigmatic and joyous.

Auryn Quartett:

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Britten Quartets 2 /3 (1996)
The second Britten quartet, op. 36, is my favorite (its place sealed after an astounding live performance by the Jupiter Quartet a year ago), followed closely by the third, which remains for next Sunday's concert. Benjamin Britten was a pacifist, and although the second quartet was composed as a tribute to Henry Purcell in 1945, for the 250th anniversary of his death, the piece is also a personal statement by Britten against war. The Auryn Quartett's reading emphasized the piece's acidic qualities, with almost Shostakovich-like bitterness in the first movement and a very fast, obsessive, almost paranoid second movement. The third movement, a modern adaptation of the chaconne, that most Baroque of musical forms, featured fine solo work from cellist Andreas Arndt and violist Steuart Eaton, as well as incendiary playing from first violinist Matthias Lingenfelder in the trill section toward the end. The stunning conclusion, in which the serpentine melody of war is vanquished by fortissimo C major chords, was not electrifying but still beautifully done.

If next week's concert features the twilight of Britten's string quartet cycle, this concert concluded with Mozart's last string quintet, K. 614 in E-flat major, from 1791, just half a year before his death. In this jubilant performance, the best part of the first movement was, once again, the development, in which an unusual turn toward an unexpected harmonic area drew smiles from all five players. The radiant second movement sounded a little empty until near the end, when the mood turns somber. The hemiola-themed menuetto was plucky, matched by a rustic drone-driven dance in its trio. The jocular rondo, with its sudden thematic stops reminiscent of Haydn and that stormy fugal episode, made a delightful conclusion to an excellent concert.

The FAES hosts the final concert in this three-concert series on Sunday (March 25, 4 pm) at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda.

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