The highly successful concert by the Jupiter Quartet on Sept. 17 included works by the two giants of German chamber music of the 19th century, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms, with a strong contrast coming from a 20th-century work of manic passion by the Moravian composer Leos Janacek.
This concert was dedicated to the memory of Howard Osborn, who passed away recently. Professor Osborn, along with his wife, Jean, had sponsored 35 chamber music events, plus four sponsorships of chamber music series.
Osborn’s profession was the teaching of mathematics, but music was his passion.
He played the viola and the violin in the Champaign-Urbana Symphony for many decades, and his knowledge of chamber music was encyclopedic.
His reactions to musical performances were in my opinion gold standard.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, a work that belongs to the group of six quartets in his opus 18, works written around 1800.
Early this work may be, but it reveals Beethoven as already a master composer.
The opening movement, with a brief, curt motif, repeated more than 100 times, received an electrifying reading from the Jupiters.
Then, the members of this ensemble, Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel (violins), Liz Freivogel (viola) and Daniel McDonough (cello) brought out the yearning nostalgia of the second movement, the long lines of melody of which offered relief after the high-pitched drama of the opening movement.
Both this Beethoven quartet and the Brahms piano quintet, played later, adhered more or less to the classic four movements progression of tempo and mood (fast, slow, lively and conclusive), popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.
But Janacek’s 1923 String Quartet No. 1, although in the usual four movements, threw the rule book out the window. Here tempos and moods fly in many directions.
This work bears the title, “Kreutzer Sonata,” alluding to Beethoven’s famous Piano and Violin Sonata No. 9, named after a famous violinist to whom Beethoven dedicated it.
But, except for a brief quotation, Janacek’s music does not reflect Beethoven’s. The main allusion of the title is to Leo Tolstoy’s 1889 novella of that name in which a husband, in a fit of passion, kills his wife, who has played that Beethoven Sonata with her violinist lover.
Janacek’s work opens with strong outbursts and manic repetitions, and in his second movement, the two violinists play against one another as fast as possible.
In the third movement, weird scratchy sounds seemed to me to suggest strangulation. All in all, this was a wild piece and it was played with determined force by the Jupiters.
The concert ended with a playing of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34.
Here the Jupiters were joined by Jon Nakamatsu, who emerged, unheralded, in 1997 to win the Van Cliburn Competition, and he has since enjoyed a highly successful performing career.
This piano quintet is a large-scale work, with a symphony-like grandeur. Its first movement, in its wild outbursts contrasted with quiet interludes, is a big, declamatory statement.
Nakamatsu, at the keyboard, admirably complimented the eloquent playing of the Jupiters, here and elsewhere in this exciting performance.
After the storms of the opening movement, the slow movement opened with Nakamatsu’s laconic delivery of a simple melody, superbly and subtly answered by the strings.
The wild gypsy Scherzo builds to so overpowering a climax, that I wonder why Brahms did not drop his pen and cry, “Hold, enough!” But no, classic decorum demanded a finale, and with a slow start and jumpy melody, Nakamatsu and the Jupiters built up to an arousing finish, with a last-minute trick end.
The audience responded with enthusiasm to this galloping finale, and, one presumes, to the whole concert, with sustained applause.
Professor Nicholas Temperley later informed me that Howard Osborn had played the violin in this Brahms Quintet at a concert in Foellinger Great Hall on Feb. 27, 1980.
Temperley remembered, for he had played the piano on that occasion.