Review by Judith Caldwell
On Saturday evening, Hammer Baroque presented The ELIXIR ENSEMBLE playing string quartets on instruments using gut strings as opposed to the more usual modern metal strings. The second piece on the program explored the different sounds gut strings can make. Many patrons of Hammer Baroque have complained of the short notice given for the concerts, the email announcement of this concert only went out on Thursday, but Bud Roach explained in the program notes that these concerts offer no-fee guarantees for the performers, and flexibility with dates is the trade-off to secure high-quality (and very busy) performers.
The Elixir Ensemble are certainly high quality performers who offered a varied and interesting program. The afternoon began with a String Quartet in Bb, Op 1, No 1 by Hyacinthe Jadin, a contemporary of Joseph Haydn, whom he greatly admired. Jadin was a French post-Revolutionary composer who came from a musical family and who had four brothers probably more famous musically than he. Hyacinthe Jadin was best known for his piano compositions and he became Professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire. However, he did write 12 String Quartets, and the one played today was quite pleasing with a nice interplay between instruments that owed much to Haydn. The two rests written into the end of the fourth movement added a note of levity as they sounded like two false endings. He obviously shared a sense of humour with Haydn too.
The second piece was composed by a young contemporary American musician, Darcy Copeland. Her web-site says her ‘work is inspired by tactile experimentation‘ which ‘gravitates towards noise, subtlety, and an exploration of sonic contrast’. Her String Quartet No 1 explored ‘what beauty means’ via the various sounds gut strings can make even though some of those sounds can barely be heard even by those in the front row. This piece was very odd, discordant and did not evoke much beauty for this reviewer. After intermission, the final piece was one of Haydn’s String Quartets from his Op. 20 set. No 4 is a lovely mature composition that uses all four instruments as equal voices and even gives the cello the lead in the third movement. The tone is deep and dark, but not dismal. While being harmonically deep and intellectual, it ultimately becomes playful and joyful. This definitely evoked beauty and was extremely well played. The next concert features Bud Roach singing and playing the theorbo sometime in November.