Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 14, 2022

REVIEW: South Mountain Concerts, "Calidore String Quartet"

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
September 11, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Changeable Berkshire weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic audience that welcomed the Calidore String Quartet – violinists Jeffrey Myers and Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry, and cellist Estelle Choi – to their triumphant fourth appearance at this storied venue. Formed in 2010 at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and named after the “golden state” of their roots (“dore” is French for “golden”), the ensemble has since won worldwide acclaim. 

Their program began with Mozart’s 17th quartet, in B-flat Major, K. 458. Written in 1784 as the fourth of six quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn, it was nicknamed “The Hunt” because its fanfare-like start reminded early listeners of a hunting call. The Calidore’s lively account featured an energetic opening “Allegro vivace assai,” a stately “Menuetto: Moderato,” a ravishing “Adagio,” and a thrilling “Allegro assai” finale. 

In a spoken introduction to Bartok’s 1909 first string quartet, Meehan described it as the
composer “finding his voice,” from the early influence of Richard Strauss to his mature mix of modernism with the folk music of his native Hungary. The foursome played this technically demanding score with awesome intensity, capturing the mournful angst of the opening “Lento” movement (which Bartok called a “funeral dirge” for his unrequited love of Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer), the more playful mood of the following “Allegretto,” and the fast and furious humor of the folk-flavored closing “Allegro vivace.” 

These high spirits continued in the program’s closing work, the 1876 third string quartet by Brahms, who cheerfully called it a “useless trifle,” especially when compared to his contemporaneous first symphony. In the same B-flat Major key as Mozart’s “Hunt” quartet, its opening “Vivace” movement also begins with a hunting call, which the Calidores played with exuberant gusto. This was followed by a somber “Andante,” a tender “Agitato (Allegretto non troppo),” with a lovely solo turn by violist Berry, and a kaleidoscopic final “Poco Allegretto con Variazione,” in which Brahms recalls themes from earlier movements with typically resourceful bravado.

South Mountain requires masking inside the concert hall. The venerable 2022 Sunday afternoon concert series of chamber music performed by world-class musicians runs through October 9, with upcoming performances by the Emerson and St. Lawrence String Quartets.