Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 29
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
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Music/Theater

The Recently Formed Voxare String Quartet Brings a Fresh Sound to Richardson Auditorium

Nancy Plum

New chamber music ensembles seem to spring up all the time — students get together at conservatory, young professionals meet in a large orchestra, and a new performing group is born. The members of the Voxare String Quartet came together at Juilliard, and in three short years have established themselves as committed to both a high level of performance and to play music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Violinists Emily Ondracek-Peterson and Galina Zhdanova, violist Erik Peterson, and cellist Adrian Daurov brought their new and fresh sound to Richardson Auditorium last Thursday night to a nearly full house at a concert in the Princeton University Summer Concert Series.

The Voxare Quartet focused its performance on works of three composers — the more familiar Samuel Barber and Dmitri Shostakovich, as well as the lesser known American composer Lou Harrison. Barber’s 1936 String Quartet Opus 11 looked back through music history, with a first movement in choral style and the second movement in the stile antico motet format. The Voxare Quartet, even though only together for three years, immediately demonstrated innovative precision of sound, clean pizzicato effects, and an ability to easily switch from a lively to a serene playing style. No one member of the quartet overshadowed another, with cellist Mr. Daurov playing particularly decisively and the two violins well timed in their melodic phrases.

The true inventiveness of the Voxare Quartet showed in the second movement, which is the well known adagio, used (and often over-used) from funerals to film scores. What the Voxare Quartet captured in this movement was the melodic drive and phrasing as the familiar music passed among instruments. The individual lines and duets between instruments are not always heard when this movement is played in a slower tempo, and the Voxare’s emphasis on the subtle offbeat rhythms gave the line clarity and forward motion.

Lou Harrison was a composer known for melding Asian and Western musical styles, and his works are infused with non-Western influences including his studies with Arnold Schoenberg. His five-movement String Quartet Set, composed in the late 1970s, recalls five musical forms from different periods in music history. In this work, the Voxare Quartet moved away from a vibrato-filled Romantic sound to recreate the reedy dry sound of the medieval sackbut and viol. In the opening variations, based on a medieval crusader’s song, the cello maintained a prominent role, and all four instrumentalists played the open intervals with little vibrato. Mr. Daurov proved himself to be a percussionist as well, keeping a lively rhythm in the third movement Estampie and closing Turkish Usul. The fourth movement Rondeaux showed a very sweet duet between the two violins as well as clean thirds between the viola and cello.

The third piece on the program, Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, was a particularly personal work for the Voxare members, two of whom are Russian. Shostakovich’s five-movement quartet told the composer’s own story of living through World War II and its aftermath. Like many of this composer’s pieces, this quartet captures his experiences of being accused by the Soviet government of writing “degenerate” anti-Soviet music.

The music started off playfully, as if a placid Russia were minding her own business before half a century of revolution and war. Disjunct lines between the viola and violin showed the darkening political skies, with the players relentlessly and precisely in time with one another. War has arrived by the third movement allegro, and the players effectively handled the difficult passages. A quirky melodic line in the violin and viola in the fifth movement outlined the skeletons or war while the Stalin era was announced by siren-like effects from the instruments as the piece came to a close.

The Voxare String Quartet has made its young career by taking the string quartet form beyond Haydn and the standard pieces and focusing on composers of the past and the living future. The quartet definitely brought a young and fresh sound to the Richardson stage, showing a new approach to both repertoire and musical style.

The Princeton University Summer Concerts Series will conclude on Tuesday, July 26 with a performance by the Linden String Quartet at 8 p.m. Tickets are free, and can be picked up at Richardson 1 hours before the performance.

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