By John K. Toedtman
The city of Berlin seems to be nurturing world-class chamber music ensembles.
In February, the Cincinnati Chamber Music Society brought the incomparable Artemis Quartet to town, and on Tuesday evening the Society presented the excellent Vogler Quartet in Corbett Auditorium at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. The Vogler Quartet was founded in 1985 in Berlin and is known for its intelligent playing and programming of contemporary literature.
Members include first violinist Tim Vogler, who plays a violin made by Guadagnini in 1748, Frank Reinecke, Stefan Fehland, who plays a modern viola made by Iwata in 1992, and cellist Stephan Forck.
The program opened with a rather sober work by Bartok, the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 17, Sz.67. Written during the World War I, the music reflects the fearfulness and despair of a continent in conflict. The Moderato first movement has short melodic fragments and interwoven dissonances tempered by occasional consonant sounds. The third movement, Lento, is a morose litany of sorrow that is more thoughtful than anguished or emotional.
String Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters" composed by Leos Janacek in 1928, is driven by Janacek's obsession with a beautiful younger woman, Kamila Stosslova. Eerie harmonics on the cello introduce the first movement, which represents the composer's feelings upon meeting his beloved Kamila. The second movement is rather agitated for an Adagio and the last movement is completely joyous and harmonious, a love song full of tenderness and yearning.
In 1931, Bartok wrote 44 duos for two violins that were intended as teaching pieces for the violin. Many of these duos are based on Hungarian folk tunes that Bartok collected and the eight tongue-in-cheek duos presented - which included the Mosquito Dance, Teasing Song and Bagpipes - displayed the composer's imagination and humor.
The last piece, Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2, was a welcome treat for 19th-century ears. For a piece written in a minor key, the mood was upbeat and joyful as is typical of Mendelssohn. The first movement has a difficult part for the first violin that was played brilliantly by Vogler. The Scherzo has an irrepressible vitality and the notes in the last movement tumble pell-mell to the end.
The Vogler Quartet's playing is somewhat reserved, but is an honest approach to the music these musicians obviously love.
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