While fog nudged the ground outside, four top strings players took the stage for Oceanside Classical Concerts – the second show for this 2019-2020 season. The Rolston String Quartet delivered, no question about it.
Three composers were represented in this program – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847); Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and Eugene Astapov (b. 1988).
Jonathan Lo, cellist, explained that young Felix Mendelssohn was inspired by the much older Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), whose compositions were not respected at that time. Mendelssohn recognized the potential in Beethoven’s string quartets, though, and set out to use them a basis, a learning tool. He ultimately created his own string quartets, the first of which was played tonight – String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, op. 13…composed when Mendelssohn was just 18 years old.
The quartet’s entrances into each section of the Mendelssohn were flawless. Exchanges among the instruments…ebbs and flows…sublime violin 1 phrases…equally sublime pauses…viola and cello undertones…wonderful dynamics throughout but especially in the Allegro di motto. Brilliant.
The ‘newbie’ composer on the program was a surprise guest at the show, much to the delight of the full house. Eugene Astapov joined the quartet, his longtime friends, onstage and described Beacon, his composition being premiered tonight. This work, obviously a sincere labour of love for Mr. Astapov, painted undeniably evocative pictures about a crisis we all face – climate change. The first movement, Fast and Urgent, spewed out a warning of the point of no return where there can be no averting. Sustained but Breathless described our planet in crisis – running out of air, glaciers melting, seas rising. Yes, the music was ‘crunchy’ (a word used by Mr. Astapov) and dissonant. But the pictures painted were stunning and the quartet’s playing was impeccably perfect.
Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D.810, Death and the Maiden was served on a silver platter after intermission. Schubert’s music, often longing and melancholy, depicted his own short life. This work portrayed death…that death is not such a bad thing, not so painful after all; death is a releasing…a path to freedom. The quartet took us through Schubert’s musical thoughts with deserved emotions – almost playful and wistful to interruptive and anxious to peaceful, then painful. In one section, the violins and viola created a background of soft, shivering arpeggios – the fear of impending death. The cello played measures of underlying heartbeats, then settled into long legato lines, trying to ease the mind with brief calm. In the last movement, sporadic bits of Tarantella aptly envisioned skirts swirling frantically in an attempt to whisk away any biting spider…surely Death. But Death was accepted. In the end there was the need to get it done, to accept the path.
The program was perfect, as were the four players. Thank you to the Rolston String Quartet – Luri Lee, violin; Emily Kruspe, violin; Hezekiah Leung, viola, and Jonathan Lo, cello.
by Mary Leigh Warden
Oceanside Classical Concerts Society