Gabriela Montero & Friends

NACO at the Fourth
TERESA CARREÑO

String Quartet in B Minor

I. Allegro
II. Andante
III. Scherzo. Allegro ma non troppo
IV. Allegro resoluto

Venezuelan-born Teresa Carreño (1853–1917) wrote String Quartet in B minor (her only one in the genre) in 1895. By this time, she was already a renowned musician, one of the first women pianists to establish a career as a touring virtuoso in the United States and internationally. (She was also an opera singer and impresario of her own company that toured Venezuela.) Composition was another outlet for her prodigious talent—she completed 80 works during her lifetime. Most of these she wrote in her youth and were incorporated into her concert programs as vehicles for her dazzling technique and musicianship. Otherwise, for much of her life, performing and family responsibilities (not to mention social stigmas against women composing then) limited her time to devote to writing music, though these never curbed her aspirations. In September 1896, the Klinger Quartet successfully gave the first reviewed performance of this quartet at the Leipzig Gewandhaus; the score was published the following year.

Carreño’s String Quartet is a finely wrought work in late Romantic style, featuring dramatic and expressive themes, a rich harmonic palette, and sophisticated contrapuntal writing. The Allegro begins with a theme played intensely by the first violin over restless accompaniment; later, a gentler, more lyrical tune is introduced by the viola. Mid-movement, the opening theme is developed, and the first violin takes to rhapsodic heights at the climax, after which a new melancholy theme appears, as if mourning a lost passion (Carreño composed this work after the end of her third marriage to composer-pianist Eugen d’Albert.) The second movement is a serenade with a deeply expressive melody, first sung by the first violin (all on the G string), and then by the viola. It frames a passionately agitated centre episode, this time with the first violin and cello as the main protagonists.

The spirited Scherzo is mercurial in character, with surprising moments of suspense. There’s humour too, such as when the graceful theme of the central Trio interrupts the progress of the Scherzo’s return. Energy and vigour infuse the fourth movement, with a haltingly tender second theme on syncopated rhythm providing contrast. In its final section, an impressive fugue unfolds, further highlighting Carreño’s consummate skill in writing for string quartet.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

POULENC

Sextet for piano and winds

I. Allegro vivace. Très vite et emporte
II. Divertissement. Andantino
III. Finale. Prestissimo

Francis Poulenc’s Sextet brings the hustle-bustle energy and urban flair of Paris to the middle of this program. Originally composed between 1931 and 1932 and subsequently premiered in December 1933 with the composer as pianist, Poulenc (1899–1963) later extensively revised the work. As he explained to Nadia Boulanger, “There were some good ideas in it but the whole thing was badly put together. With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly.”

The Sextet exhibits Poulenc’s characteristic eclecticism, combining neoclassical clarity with jolts of biting satire, through which he effectively exploits the various instrumental colours of a woodwind quintet and piano. The Allegro vivace opens with jazzy verve, which later gives way, mid-movement, to a haunting bassoon solo that introduces a sad, sentimental song first expressed by the piano. Humorous hijinks ensue when the original energy returns. The second movement proceeds in reverse structure to the first—two slow outer panels, melodious though with a touch of the parodic, frame a witty centre section that’s straight from the music hall. In the Finale, sparkling textures are juxtaposed with sudden moments of lyricism; the coda reflects with nostalgic melancholy before bringing the work to a majestic close.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

DVOŘÁK

Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81

I. Allegro, ma non tanto
II. Dumka: Andante con moto
III. Scherzo (Furiant): Molto vivace
IV: Finale: Allegro

When he composed his Second Piano Quintet in 1887, Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) was enjoying a growing fame across Europe, and especially in England, from where he received frequent invitations to conduct his music. (His renown would later extend across the Atlantic to the United States.) The Quintet added to his reputation: from its first performance on January 6, 1888, at a concert organized by the artists’ association Umelecká beseda in Prague’s Rudolfinum, it was a hit. Critics and composers raved, including Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who noted in his diary after hearing a live performance of it that he “very much liked the quintet.” Published the following year with a dedication to university professor Bohdan Neureuther, it became—and is still today—one of the composer’s most frequently performed works.

It’s easy to see why this piece is so appealing: the Quintet has a carefree quality, though it’s concisely constructed, using clear formal structures that are creatively infused with an astonishing variety of melodies, rhythms, and distinctive Czech national colouring. In the first movement, thematic and rhythmic elements are combined and recombined, creating an interrelated web of musical material that is by turns sunny (the opening theme), melancholy, energetic, joyous, and later, anxious (second theme), reflective, and heroic. This alternation of sharply contrasting music is maintained throughout the movement. The Andante movement similarly juxtaposes music of different characters: the piano’s melancholy introduction, which becomes a refrain; the melody of the “dumka” (a kind of Slavic lament), first sung by the viola; and an easy-going second theme, presented in tender dialogue between the two violins, which the piano then takes in a more pensive direction. These themes bookend a lively dance, based on a highly rhythmic variant of the opening refrain that is passed amongst the instruments.

The third movement is a scherzo and trio in the style of a Czech “furiant” insofar as it is a rhythmic dance in triple time (it does not alternate duple and triple meters as in the traditional form). In the Scherzo, Dvořák characteristically presents several distinct ideas in succession: a joyful running motif, a broader, more sustained melody, and a simple, folk-like tune. The central Trio is a pastoral transformation of the Scherzo’s first melody. The Quintet’s finale sparkles with cheerful motifs—a cheeky questioning phrase, a lively, running main theme (introduced by the first violin), and a graceful tune of Slavonic character. Later, the main theme undergoes rigorous development, including as the subject of a striking fugato. It returns at the end, in a brilliant coda that draws the Quintet to a jubilant close.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

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