Immaculata Chamber Players                                                                                  Violins: Kanako Shimasaki, Mariko Shimasaki,  George Millsap,                   Zhe Deng, Violas: Cristian Diaz, Martin Hintz,                                                    Cellos: Jonathan Lee, Lucas Song                                       

Immaculata Church, Cincinnati January 26, 2020

Haydn, String Quartet in E-flat Op. 33 No. 2 “The Joke”
Webern, Fünf Sätze für Streichquartett, Op. 5 (Five pieces for String Quartet)
Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4

Inspired in both spirit and craftsmanship, and part of the late-career opus 33, which Haydn had published in 1781, the “Joke Quartet” earned its sobriquet for more than one of its implied puns. Maybe Haydn thought of Austrian humor as potentially pleasing to its Russian dedicatee, the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna. Whoever the butt of the joke may be, the Sunday afternoon audience took it well according the audience’s warm-hearted applause.

The Immaculata Chamber Players included in their January 26 concert at their home base in Mt. Adams as good a reading of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Quartet no.2, aka The Joke, as this listener remembers. First up in the opening Allegro all was Classical elegance. But as they took the listener into the second movement for which Haydn calls for schmaltz by way of soupy glissandi and heavy-handed accents that evoke a down-home Austrian foot-stomping dance, the players had a ball. The third movement Adagio returned to Classical sobriety. The joke awaited the listeners at the end of the will-it-end-now, tongue-in-cheek Finale with its series of faux-finishes, which the Immaculati immaculately delivered.

It takes more than just a little courage to program Anton Webern’s impenetrable Five Pieces for String Quartet in between Haydn and Schoenberg in what will be the second program of the Immaculata Chamber Players current lineup for 2020. The audaciously daring group has weaned its audience on Mendelssohn and Bach, and has never yet made an incursion into the 20th century, not that I remember. But in spite of its safe repertory choices the group’s identity thus far remains that of a valiant assemblage of young musicians ready for their DeMille musical close up.

Are they ready? Unbelievers would wonder, but not those of us who have been carefully following their journey. The young players took on Webern’s emphatically atonal set of miniatures playing them with respect and precision.

After intermission the Immaculata musicians took us into a renewed acquaintance with Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, here given in its original chamber orchestration for a string sextet. The German’s serialist was here at his earliest, melodious best, closer in spirit and compositional technique to Wagner than to his dodecaphonic cohorts of later years.

In its cohesive six-part tone poem Schoenberg finds ways to potently express elation, sorrow, intense love, regret, remorse and redemption in music that not only foretells great things to come from its composer but delivers great music right here and now.

Throughout the entire program the eight participating musicians played with technical prowess and intense commitment to the music, embracing it with a cool brain and a warm heart, just the way Haydn, Webern, and Schoenberg would have wanted.

Rafael de Acha                                                                                                                                         WWW.RAFAELMUSICNOTES.COM