Mallaré String Quartet at Logan Center

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra returned to Hyde Park Sunday, May 21, for a free concert at the Logan Center. The Mallaré String Quartet drew a good-sized crowd for performances of quartets by Beethoven and Dvorak as part of the All-Access Chamber Music Series.

The highlight of the concert was Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (Razumovsky). Rong-Yan Tany and Melanie Kupchynsky, violins, Max Raimi, viola, and Loren Brown, cello, offered splendid, crowd-pleasing music.

The Beethoven was immediately attractive, with the first violin aiming for an earthy sound rather than sweet. There was an effective use of pauses throughout. The Molto adagiohad a gentle, thoughtful opening. It was tinged with both melancholy and hopefulness as the quartet caressed the music. There were wonderful dynamics, as the music grew organically from soft to loud and then back to a whisper again. This movement had particularly pretty work by the cello, but he never engaged in grandstanding. All the players were patient, creating the effect of looking backward at something important.

Both violins glimmered in the Allegretto and the entire quartet found full throated excitement.

The concluding Presto was romping and engaging. There was good fun as the music passed from instrument to instrument like a baton in a relay race. There was galloping excitement as they got faster and faster, with the final moments both enticing and exciting. When it was over, three-quarters of the audience were on their feet applauding.

Also on the program was Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat Major. Like the “Razumovsky” quartets, this work is often cited as a so-called symphonic quartet (for its towering conclusion) and was an apt work to pair with the Beethoven. It affords orchestral musicians to shine in a quartet setting and lets lose the composer’s exuberance for dance-like melodies and folk elements “in the Slav spirit,” as expressed by violinist Jean Becker, who commissioned the work.

Two songs by CSO and Mallaré Quartet violist Max Raimi were also on the program, but were unfortunately cancelled due to illness of soprano Patrice Michaels, the scheduled soloist. We will have to wait for another occasion to hear “Story of the Pennies” and “At My Wedding,” two songs set to Jewish texts.

A particularly delightful element of the afternoon was a question and answer session with Raimi after the music was over. It was a wide-ranging discussion that gave listeners an insight into one musician’s approach to music and his background.

One subject concerned the Interlochen Arts Camp, an annual camp in northwest Michigan that Raimi attended for several years in the late sixties and early seventies, which remains a popular summer study program for young musicians today. Raimi explained that it was exciting to find so many kids with the same depth of interest in music that he had and that it was an invigorating place to learn music. He praised both the quality of the faculty as well as the quality of the kids who attended.

He was asked if he kept in touch with the people he met there and replied that over the years he had lost touch with many of them but via Facebook was reunited with several of them and was able to learn how they were doing.

Raimi strongly recommended Interlochen, saying it was integral to his becoming a professional musician and that it fostered growth for children.

Raimi spoke about playing music without a conductor. He said you needed to avoid utter chaos (which he compared to the Italian Parliament) and said that within his own string quartet they had a total democracy. They try different things, some of which fail, and then try something else.

He spoke about his viola (made by an Estonian) where you could buy a new string for a child’s violin (a shop next door to Symphony Center) and the problems of keeping an instrument in tune during the course of a single work.

He was even asked about a foot stomp made by first violinist Rong-Yan Tang during the Beethoven. No, he explained, it is not in the score, but is part of her exuberance for piece.

The final concert in this season’s All-Access Chamber Music Series takes place on Wed., Jun. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center (220 S. Michigan Ave.) featuring the Lincoln String Quartet (Lei Hou and Qing Hou, violins, Lawrence Neuman, viola, and Kenneth Olsen, cello).

On the program: Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 44, No. 2; Mozart’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 428; and Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10.

Tickets are free. For information on how to reserve your ticket, visitcso.org.