String Quartet Serves up Nourishment for the Soul

“A Journey to the Heart of Europe” is the romantic title that embraced the works played on this afternoon’s classical concert. The spacious two-and-a-half-story dining hall at Huntington Common once again proved to be the ideal venue in the Kennebunks for classical music, in my opinion. I came away completely nourished and eminently satisfied by musical entrees prepared to soothe the soul. It was a grand plan to program the River Tree Arts co-sponsored concert here in a recently redecorated semi-formal setting commensurate with the artistry of the DaPonte String Quartet. To fulfill the promise of “A Journey to the Heart of Europe”, selections were from Beethoven (1770-1827), Hugo Wolf (1860-1903), and Anton Dvorak (1841-1904); Beethoven and Wolf from Vienna and Dvorak, Prague.

The high-ceilinged room gave the overtones enough space in which to serve up a huge homogenized acoustic surround sound with impeccable blend. The entire afternoon, I sat and reveled in the breadth of the sound that seemed to be evenly distributed to and returning from the distant corners of the room. To me it felt like total immersion in a kind of climate-controlled tank the size of the venue. I trust that others were similarly transported in the spirit of the title. Later, I talked with a Huntington Common staff member whose office is across from the high windows in the dining room. She revealed that the sound was excellent up there. Concertgoers know that although people who want to be seen prefer the front orchestra seats in music halls, the best sound usually goes to the first balcony!

“Quartet in B flat Major,” Op. 18 No.6, Beethoven’s last, made a brilliant opening promised by its title Allegro con brio. The quartet’s initial offering presented high expectations for the afternoon and they never disappointed. The second movement was by contrast graceful and refined, Adagio, ma non tropo. During his introduction, violinist Ferdinand Liva predicted the Scherzo movement to be a rhythmic challenge. Any challenge appeared to have been met although the Scherzo offered a quizzical ending. La Malinconia Adagio-Allegretto quasi allegro proceded at a melancholy pace with bursts of chords always interpreted with colorful palette. The Beethoven proved to be entirely pleasing and received sincere applause.

Myles Jordan, cellist, rightly previewed the “Italian Serenade” written in 1894 by Hugo Wolf as a high-spirited romp. He noted that it came later out of Vienna, the source of the earlier Beethoven. He pointed out that we should notice the song-like phrases including those representing a recitative from the cello. Wolf is known for his lieder, so it follows that the style of his instrumental writing might naturally take the form of dialogue. The intonation and blend of the instruments continued to be enchanting as it, once again, did not appear to come toward us, but to surround us. The total audience appeared to enjoy the romp.

After the intermission we heard a bit about Dvorak’s travel to New York City in 1895, following which the composer wrote the “String Quartet No.14 in A-Flat Major,” Op. 105, in Prague. The first performance was given in Vienna in 1896. The movements are as follows: Adagio ma non tropo. Allegro impassionato; Molto vivace; Lento e molto cantabile; and Allegro non tropo. Most impressive in my opinion was the Lento e molto cantabile.

It was played as directed by the composer, slowly, and very much in singing style. My impression while listening to this movement was a sense of how the music could be inhaled almost like life-giving oxygen. Live performance affords a depth of experience that no high quality digital recording can transmit. The comparative few who take time out to savor the work of such masterful players are naturally mesmerized by the experience when performed in exactly the right acoustic setting. There has been much said about the general public not appreciating classical music in the 21st century. Perhaps this has happened because so many people have not yet experienced great performances such as those the DaPonte String Quartet presents.

Many happy returns of fine concert programming at Huntington Common are anticipated. The price of the River Tree Arts tickets were about half of the cost of DaPonte String Quartet tickets in other areas of Maine due to the generous patronage of a local bank. A totally underwritten concert would bring such an experience not only to many more new young audience members from the community but also to those at Huntington Common whose budgets do not include additional expenditure for outside-sponsored concerts and other entertainment.

Mention of the event décor must not be overlooked. A five-inch yellow blossom floated in a martini glass next to a small gold-framed announcement of the concert on each round table. Event planners seated the audience at tables in threes, facing the central performance position. The decorations appeared as unique as a Martha Stewart party touch, but credit actually goes to Huntington Common’s entertainment director, Sue Benner.

Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom