Ensemble 360

Palace Theatre, Mansfield
Wednesday 10 April 2024, 7.30pm

(£5 Under 26s)

Past Event
String players of Ensemble 360

BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op.59 No.2
SHAW Entr’acte
DVOŘÁK String Quintet No.2 in G Op.77

This concert begins with one of Beethoven’s deeply passionate quartets, which he dedicated to the Russian Count Razumovsky. Then a work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning US composer Caroline Shaw, whose hypnotic string quartet is full of energy and beauty.

Finally, Dvořák’s exceptional and unusually scored string quintet is operatic in scope and richly textured, earning the dedication for my country’ from the Czech composer, who yearned to create a distinctly bohemian musical language in a time of turmoil across eastern Europe.

BEETHOVEN Ludwig Van, String Quartet in E minor Op.59 No.2 Razumovsky

Molto Adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento  
Allegretto. Maggiore (Thème russe)  
Finale. Presto 

“Demanding but dignified” was how the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung described Beethoven’s new quartets dedicated to Count Rasumovsky when they were first heard in 1807. Composed in 1806, and including Russian melodies from a collection of folk tunes edited by Ivan Prach (published in 1790), these quartets were a major development in the quartet form. But though they were longer and more challenging than any earlier quartets, they were an immediate success. Before the Rasumovsky Quartets were played, Beethoven offered them to publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig – in a job lot with the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Fourth Symphony and Fidelio, but the deal fell through and the quartets were first published in Vienna by the Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie and in London by Clementi. 

While the first of the Rasumovsky Quartets is unusually expansive, the second is more concentrated. From the opening two-chord gesture establishing E minor as the home key, the first movement is tense and full of rhythmic ambiguity. The hymn-like slow movement has a combination of richness and apparent simplicity that blossoms into a kind of ecstatic aria: Beethoven himself is reported to have likened it to “a meditative contemplation of the stars”. The uneasy rhythms of the Scherzo are contrasted by a major-key Trio section in which Beethoven quotes a Russian tune that famously reappeared in the Coronation Scene of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov. The finale begins with a surprise: a strong emphasis on the note C that is tantalising and unexpected in a movement that moves firmly towards E minor.  

© Nigel Simeone 

SHAW Caroline, Entr’acte

Entracte was written in 2011 after hearing the Brentano Quartet play Haydn’s Op. 77 No. 2 — with their spare and soulful shift to the D-flat major trio in the minuet. It is structured like a minuet and trio, riffing on that classical form but taking it a little further.

From Caroline Shaw Editions.

DVOŘÁK Antonin, String Quintet No.2 in G, Op.77

Scored for the unusual combination of string quartet and double bass, Dvořák’s String Quintet in G major was first performed on 18 March 1876 as the composer’s Op.18 – a number that was changed when the work was first published by Simrock twelve years later in 1888. Originally the work had five movements (with an ‘Intermezzo’ before the Scherzo, reworked as the Nocturne in B major for string orchestra), and despite the published opus number, it is one of the composer’s first chamber works to be fully characteristic of his mature style. The first movement opens with a motif played first by the viola (Dvořák’s own instrument) that dominates much of the musical argument – the triplet figure in it is to be heard in the second theme too. The Scherzo finds Dvořák writing in the style of a folk dance, the opening theme consists of a lively opening motif that contrasts with a gentler idea over which Dvořák later introduces a warmly expressive new tune. The third movement has been described by the great Dvořák scholar Otakar Šourek as ‘one of the most entrancing slow movements in the whole of Dvořák’s chamber music … a flowing stream of passionate warmth [and] depth of feeling’. The finale has the same kind of sunny mood as the first movement, but with an even greater sense of joyful energy. Though there are moments of repose (during which the thematic material is treated to some ingenious transformations), the work ends with what Dvořák’s biographer Otakar Šourek aptly described as ‘high-spirited verve’.  


© Nigel Simeone