John Frayne: Jupiter quartet to kick off classical schedule
The Jupiter String Quartet, the chamber music ensemble in residence at the University of Illinois, will open the regular classical music concert season Sept. 12 in the Foellinger Great Hall at the Krannert Center.
In what is considered Felix Mendelssohn's most famous chamber work, his "Octet in E-Flat Major," Op. 20, the Jupiter Quartet will be joined by the Jasper String Quartet, an ensemble that played here Jan. 27. I remember vividly the Jaspers' exciting performance of Aaron Jay Kernis' "Quartet No. 2, musica instrumentalis" at that concert.
The motto of this concert might be "all in the family." As is well known of the Jupiters, violinist Meg Freivogel is the sister of violist Liz Freivogel, and cellist Daniel McDonough is married to Meg. The first violinist of the group is Nelson Lee.
The first violinist of the Jasper Quartet is J (no period) Freivogel. (At this point, you might see a pattern emerging!) Yes, J is the brother of Meg and Liz, and J is married to the cellist of the Jaspers, Rachel Henderson Freivogel. The other violinist of the Jaspers is Sae Chonabayashi, from Japan, and violist Sam Quintal is from Fairbanks, Alaska.
Family related members of quartets are not rare. The famous Busch Quartet had Adolph Busch as first violinist and Hermann as cellist. And Sascha and Alexander (Mischa) Schneider were for a long time the backbone of the renowned Budapest Quartet.
The Mendelssohn Octet on the Sept. 12 program was composed in 1825, when Mendelssohn was about 16 years old, and it dated from the same period as the overture to William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Both works are about the earliest masterpieces of any known composer.
Eight string players can weave an orchestral texture, and Mendelssohn said, "This Octet must be played by all the instruments in strictly orchestral style."
The gem of the piece is the third movement, the scherzo, marked "allegro leggerissimo" ("as lightly as possible"). The quicksilver texture of this movement has long been compared to sections of the "Midsummer Night's Dream" Overture, and Mendelssohn later orchestrated it and used it as a Scherzo for his "Symphony No. 1."
The concert will open with Joseph Haydn's "String Quartet in G minor," Op. 74, No. 3, named "The Rider." The quartet is the last of six such compositions known as the Apponyi quartets, after the name of Haydn's patron. They were composed to be taken along on Haydn's second visit to London in 1793. Each of the quartets has a slow introduction, an innovation for Haydn, and the galloping rhythms of the Op. 74, No. 3 finale suggested the name "Rider."
Also on the program will be Benjamin Britten's String Quartet No. 2. This work dates from 1945, and is connected with the 250th anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell, one of England's greatest composers.
Britten also gave homage that year with his "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," which uses a theme by Purcell as the subject of a series of variations. The third and last movement of Britten's Quartet No. 2 is entitled "Chacony," the spelling used by Purcell for a "Chaconne," a theme and variations form much associated with Purcell. Britten's finale movement has 21 variations, divided into four groups.
The Jupiter Quartet will be quite busy this month. It will play the first concert in the Allerton Barn Festival on Sept. 19. Famed American composer Gunther Schuller will be present for that concert, and the Jupiter group will be joined by UI horn Professor Bernhardt Scully in Schuller's "Quintet for Horn and Strings."
The balance of the program will feature the Cesar Franck: "Quintet for Piano and Strings," in which the Jupiters will be joined by pianist Wuna Meng, the 2012 winner of the Krannert Center Debut Artist Award. I remember well her accomplished playing of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Goldberg Variations" at her April 15, 2012, concert.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.