Music Concert: The David Oistrakh String Quartet

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A concerto, or concerti in the plural, is a musical composition dating back to the 1750s by the use of instruments and three primary movements whereby a concert band or orchestra accompanies one solo instrument or a group of soloists. The ensembles or soloists relate to each other through combination, competition, and alteration. Accordingly, a concerto, like a string quartet or symphony, may be viewed as a music genre specialty, which embraces a cycle of contrasting movements thematically or tonally integrated. On the other hand, a stringed quartet entails a musical ensemble made up of four string players or a musical piece written for performance by such a group/quartet, and featuring a cellist, two violin players, and a viola player. 

The David Oistrakh String Quartet comprises of four of the most outstanding contemporary Russian musicians, who are all solo players brought together by their passion for quartet composition and playing. The string quartet features Andrey Baranov (the first violin player), Rodion Petrov (the second violin player), Fedor Belugin (the viola player), and Alexey Zhilin. Four of the pieces played by the quartet included String Quartet No.1 (1989-90) initially composed by Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov (1873-1943); String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73, composed by Dmitri Dimitrijevic Shostakovich (1906-1975); String Quartet No.1, Op. 11 in D-major (1871), a composition by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893); and the Paganini Caprices Op. 1 (1802-1817), written by Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840). The event took place on 17th November 2019, from three pm at the Beall Concert Hall in the University of Oregon.

The piece features two core movements, Romance in andante espressivo, i.e., at a “walking pace” which is ideally faster than adagio but slightly slower than allegro; and Scherzo, i.e., indicating movement in the piece embodying a humorous nature and general lightness. Therefore, the piece moved from a general slow/ “walking” pace to fast humorous movements, i.e., Scherzo-allegro. Accordingly, the piece’s tempo was fast, albeit beginning at a slow beat. The piece was generally melodious and involving, drawing the audience to invoke deep or sombre memories and attitudes. The String Quartet No. 1 also featured a high level of consonance, with notes creating a smooth harmony from one section to the next. All three instruments (cello, violin, and viola) are used in the piece to create harmony, starting with the violin, as the others join in.

The piece was performed in F-Major using a range of styles and approaches, thus creating a high level of dissonance. The piece starts with the cellist and the violinists playing in allegretto, a reasonably quick tempo that is faster than Andante but typically slower than Allegro. The piece then embodies two unique styles, including Moderato con moto, i.e., moderate stringing speed with movements, and Allegro non-troppo, fast, but not very fast playing. The quartet then all join in an Adagio, a slow speed between Andante and Largo, which allows for the Attacca, i.e., moving straight on, thus indicating moving/transitioning directly to the next part of the piece, the Moderato. The piece thereby concludes in a Moderato, i.e., moderately fast performance. The piece imbues a high level of dissonance, which makes it hard for part of the audience to understand its main intention due to the wide-ranging tempos.

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The third piece, originally composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was performed by the quartet in D-major, also featuring wide-ranging tempos. The piece begins with a Moderato e Semplice tempo, i.e., moderate and simple, a simplified tempo which starts with one player, the cellist or violinist. The performance then moves to the Andante Cantabile, i.e., the “walking speed” with a moderately slow resonance performed in a singing style. 

The Scherzo movement then follows, i.e., fast and humorous, but light movements performed a trio, which in this case involved the two violinists and the viola player. The piece was concluded by the “Finale: Allegro Giusto – Allegro vivace”, meaning that towards the end of the piece, the performance/movements were fast, exact/proper, and lively. While this piece comprises of a mixture of tempos similar to the String Quartet No. 3 Op. 73, there is a better consonance in the performance, thus creating melancholic but lively or involving music.

The Paganini piece was the final performance of the music concert. The quartet embodied two main tempos and approaches, including “No. 20 – Allegretto in D-Major”, relatively quick movements and performance whereby the trio (violinists and viola player) took the primary stance, with the cellist coming on and off intermittently; and “No. 24 – Tema: Quasi presto/variazioni I-IX/Finale” which involve eleven variations composed by Paganini in A-Major. The consonance of the piece is high, showing a variation of skill sets especially by the violinists, with their high-speed switching between positions/movements and strings. Most of the Finale performances involved soloist performances, with a few ensemble moments as intermissions.

The four performances were quite intriguing and involving, with the first, third, last pieces invoking more interest and thoughtfulness. The first piece was generally melodious and involving, drawing the audience to invoke deep or sombre memories and attitudes. Perhaps it is because of the movements used, specifically Romance, which mirrors the pervasive and prevalent sadness depicted by the original composer, Rachmaninoff, regarding the lifestyle of the upper-class in Russia. 

Therefore, the piece invokes passion, languor, and feelings that the audience can associate with closely. The second piece entailed a lot of dissonance and a range of tempos which did not have smooth transitions, thus associated with unrest and periods of anticipation during its composition. In the third piece, the movements were fast, exact/proper, and lively, as well as imbuing better consonance despite the wide-ranging tempos. Although the piece was somewhat melancholic, it was lively and involving, thus pleasing. The final piece was also lively and pleasing since it features soloist performances showing a range of skills and movements in a fast and involving manner.

Overall, the music concert was very successful artistically. The opportunity to attend a recognised performance, such as The David Oistrakh String Quartet always creates a memorable occasion. The young ensemble created in 2012 has widespread recognition across the globe, with performances across Europe, South America, and Asia. The concert features among the best I have attended so far due to the mixture of approaches, movements, and tempos which draw a multiplicity of feelings and associations with the music. Therefore, as a front to attending this performance, this class has greatly improved my experience in concertos and stringed quartets, creating a renewed interest in this type of music.

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