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Last night, the Eybler Quartet gave a fabulous performance and at the same time, what amounted to a clinic on the development of the string quartet from 1770 to 1800. The concert was part of the Chamber Music Downtown series of Music Toronto at the Jane Mallett Theatre.
The Eybler Quartet has been playing together as an ensemble since 2004. It’s members have all been associated with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra since that time. Playing on period instruments, they love to create music that is both historically informed and at the same time as vital as if it were written today. They have set out to explore the rarely performed string quartet repertoire of lesser known composers in the early years of the genre. The quartet’s name is derived from a little known composer of the 18th century, Joseph Leopold Edler von Eydler whose music they champion.
Violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky have an infectious energy about their playing. As Patrick Jordan explained in his introduction, Wedman and Nosky alternate the first chair position. Both Jordan and cellist Margaret Gay are themselves virtuosic performers, but it is the group’s cohesive sound and collective vitality that are the hallmarks of the ensemble.
Last night’s program was a chronological anthology of the repertoire spanning contemporaries of Haydn to Beethoven’s earliest quartet. The performance of each of the works was characterized by an uplifting spirit of fresh exuberance.
The concert began with Johann Baptist Vanhal’s Quartet in C, Op. 6, No. 3. From the opening notes, a musical energy of high vibration filled the room. The program notes by Keith Horner explained that Vanhal was both a prolific composer of more than seven hundred published compositions and a fine cellist who once performed in a quartet with Haydn, Dittersdorf and Mozart. The Eybler Quartet will be releasing a CD of Vanhal’s music in April of this year.
Following the Vanhal was a quartet by Franz Asplmayr, another little-known contemporary of Hadyn. Asplmayr wrote Quartet in D, Op. 2, No.2 the year before the Vanhal. Here again, was an early example of a string quartet written with charm and liveliness, especially in the finale.
The first half of the concert concluded with Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in B Minor, Op. 33, No. 1 (Hob.III:37)(1781). Written more than ten years after the first two quartets, one could see easily the progression of both the genre and musical style. The cello and viola had become equal members in the genre. The sonata form was more sophisticated. The Eybler Quartet once again performed with passion and vigour. Playing period instruments with minimal vibrato, their tone was both clear and warm. The last movement of the work took the audience on a wild ride, with each instrument in turn leading the way.
Beethoven’s String Quartet in D, Op 18, No. 3 encompassed the second half of the program. Written in 1798-1800, it was the first of Beethoven’s quartets and among his early Viennese works. The quartet began with an earnestness that soon had the abrupt changes one comes to expect in Beethoven. The first movement had plenty of imitative passages testing the virtuosity of each instrument. The emotional second movement had its own mood changes throughout. Its slow opening theme with the moving lines in the inner parts was breath-taking. Aisslinn Nosky’s beautiful elongated melodic passages were particularly expressive. The fourth movement was played at Beethoven’s specified metronome marking as is seldom the case. It made for a furious finale. As Jordan said in his introduction, “Fasten your seatbelts!” And what a ride it was! The Eybler Quartet is to be congratulated for giving a new glimpse into the mind of Beethoven with a performance as he himself might have envisioned it. The quartet is to be lauded for a well-conceived program that was musically satisfying and at the same time, instructive in the evolution of the string quartet as a genre.
Next on the calendar of Music Toronto will be a performance by the Prazak Quartet on March 2nd at the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
Eybler Quartet shines with an anthology of early string quartets!
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 17th 2017