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The Mandelring Quartet
Katarzyna Mycka, marimbist
Driven Devotion: Mandelring Quartet Review
By Gary R. Lemco
AT THE CONCLUSION of a most colorful, even spectacular, concert given by the visiting German ensemble, the Mandelring Quartet—Sebastian Schmidt, violin; Christoph Schickedanz, violin; Roland Glassi, viola; and Bernhard Schmidt, cello—the audience erupted in cascades of appreciation, especially grateful to and curious about assisting artist Katarzyna Mycka, marimba virtuoso, who had performed at Le Petit Trianon Theatre, San Jose, California, Friday, March 16, 2012. With music by Mendelssohn, Sejourne, Debussy, and Rosauro, the ensemble clearly defined itself as a dominant force in classic and contemporary music interpretation, experimental, audacious, and lustrously passionate.
The concert opened with the D Major Quartet, Op. 44, No. 1 by Felix Mendelssohn (1838), whose Molto allegro vivace proved a natural vehicle for the exuberant Mandelrings, often feverish in their symphonic sound, perfectly homogenized for tonal balances. Often, the blazing runs and polyphonic filigree appeared like afterthoughts to the estimable Octet, Op. 20, the product of Mendelssohn’s precocious youth. A relatively gentle Menuetto ensued, a lyrical song acting as a moment of repose on the heels of inflamed emotions. The delicate third movement, Andante espressivo ma non tanto, allowed first violin Sebastian Schmidt a moving cadenza, a songful foil to his more concertante virtuosity in movement one. The last movement proffered a saltarello in anticipation of the Italian Symphony. Here, viola Glassi and cello Bernhard Schmidt made sonorous points in the midst of a blazing Presto con brio that took no prisoners.
The first of two marimba display pieces—and to see this imposing percussion instrument to stage left of four string players at first provided a disarming visual anomaly—was Emmanuel Sejourne’s Concerto for Marimba and Strings. An innate Romantic out of Strasbourg, the first movement (Tempo souple) might have invoked Rachmaninoff or lyrical Glinka in its essentially plastic and melodic approach to the marimba. Often, the colors took on a decided Spanish-Gallic tone, in the manner of Milhaud. Soloist Mycka, moving like a cat or a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars,” applied deft and suave motions of hands, arms and hips in her traversals across the instrument, brandishing her mallets, which she would often exchange to effect various grades of dynamics—with astonishing aplomb. The second movement (Rhythmique, erergique) exploited jazz and flamenco rhythms, employing a marimba cadenza both primal and nostalgic. The blending of string colors and the hard patina of the marimba often reversed our expectations, with the strings pizzicato and the marimba’s exerting an anomalous legato.
By consensus, the Debussy Quartet as realized by the Mandelring Quartet captured the evening, which says great deal in the face of the grand finale, the Concerto for Marimba and Strings (1986) by Ney Rosauro. From the outset of the Debussy, its gruff melodic germ assumed exotic and erotic transformation, chromatically fascinating, and rhythmically protean. The feeling of interior variation kept us both fixated and unnerved at once. Debussy clearly expanded Franck’s cyclic principle to his own template, luxuriating in the capacity of the four instruments to blend and overlap their timbres, in the manner of his Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. The pizzicati of the second movement, Assez vif et bien rhythme, extended the variation technique, offering cello ostinati and vibrant cross rhythms. The open, stentorian sound might pay homage to the Javanese Gamelan orchestra, but the scintillating colors of the Mandelring made us attend to the kaleidoscope on its own terms. The slow movement may begin with staggered entries and false starts, but once the viola established the main theme, its impassioned utterance became inevitable and haunted. If anyone cares to notice, the finale reprises the music of the first movement, but in reverse order. The indication from the composer “avec passion,” certainly found faithful acolytes in the Mandelring, who delivered an incandescent reading from first note to last, the snake’s devouring its own tail with a grand rapture.
Ney Rosauro (b. 1952) is the musical product of Rio de Janeiro, and his Concerto abides by a strong Villa-Lobos ethos. In four movements, the piece permits Mycka a splendid palette for her diverse mallets and their distinctive sonority. Often, the marimba played solo in a kind of bravura partita. Saudacao (Greeting) offered a long introduction over buzzing strings which employed high harmonics as well. The music took on several distinct moods before moving to the Lamento second movement, 6/4, set in the Aeolian mode and indulging in romantic nostalgia in seamless diminuendi from Mycka. In Danca—Molto animato, the music became festive, employing jazzy fugato in the strings and celebrating primal energies with gusto. Finally, Despedida (Farewell) moved Prestissimo, sporting another mesmerizing cadenza wherein Mycka’s easy grace and bouncing sets of mallets seemed to combine the best of José Iturbi, the Cirque du soleil, and Julia Childs in mesmeric choreography.
The one encore, a tango by Lucas Guimot, especially conceived for the ensemble, confirmed our impression of an immensely talented group who sport a combination of sounds guaranteed to excite more contemporary composition. Kudos to the San Jose Chamber Music Society under whose auspices this brilliant concert took place. ♫
Dr. Gary R. Lemco is a regular reviewer for
Classical Music Guide He resides in California.
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