The string quartet is one of the chamber ensembles most often used since the age of Haydn until the present day. As Goethe said, it is “a conversation between four intelligent people”. This grouping forms the basis for the concert we will listen to today in its original format, adding the voice and clarinet.
The quartet in F major is the typical perfect work which summarizes the academic phase of M. Ravel (1875-1937). This is the Ravel who adheres to the sonata form in the first movement, with the two classic themes of deep lyricism, development and recapitulation. But, at the same time, it is the Ravel who unhinges the gentlemen of the conservatory, not so much because of his ability to surprise but due to the new harmonic features of the work.
Composed between 1902 and 1903, it was premiered the following year by the Heymann quartet. The work received a very mixed reception; he dedicated it to his teacher Gabriel Fauré, who criticized the last movement, declaring that it was “gaunt, unbalanced and, in fact, a failure”, while, apparently, Claude Debussy was more favourable to the composition and dedicated the following words to Ravel: “In the name of God and my own, I ask you not to change a single note of your work.”
With a cyclical structure, some of the themes in the first movement reappear in the third and fourth. In the second he introduces a fragment of great rhythmic interest, by means of the superposition of the 3/4 and 6/8 times which appear to proclaim their characteristic colour. The thematic material once again comes from the first movement. In the lyrical and rhapsodic slow third movement he improvises with a constant fluctuation of tempos and dynamics, during which the viola assumes the central role. The end, with alternations of 5/8, 5/4 and 3/4 beats, is vigorous and energetic, combining rapid passages in tremolo and arpeggios with more turbulent ones, conferring unusual brightness upon it.
A. García-Abril (1933) composed Canciones del jardín secreto (Songs of the Secret Garden) on the occasion of the tribute paid by the musicians of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando to its director Ramon González de Amezúa on his eightieth birthday in October 2001. They were originally written for voice and piano and were premiered by Teresa Berganza and the composer himself. They were later arranged for different groupings, including quartets and symphonic orchestras. They are based on Andalusian Arabic poems from the 11th to 16th centuries. Their denomination comes from the name with which these poets referred to poetry: the secret garden.
García Abril used these texts, which came into his hands in beautiful poetry books with pictorial illustrations by his friend Rodríguez Acosta, a painter from Granada. The illustrations, with an intrinsic poetic component, together with the reading of the books, led him to focus his attention on these five texts which he soon put to music.
In 1890, J. Brahms (1833-1897) had decided to retire from composition but, after listening to the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld in the same year, he was encouraged to write a series of works for this musician and his instrument: the trio in A minor, Op. 114 (clarinet, cello and piano), two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op. 120, and this quintet for clarinet and strings in B minor, Op. 115, composed in 1891. Works for clarinets and string quartets were rarities in the age of Brahms and the last major work of this genre was Mozart’s clarinet quintet, dated 1789. The instrument had undergone significant improvements throughout the 19th century and Brahms was particularly captivated by the sweetness of Mühlfeld’s timbric colour, a quality he used to the full in this work, especially in its second movement.
The first movement of the quintet maintains the structure of a sonata. The first notes of the initial allegretto, a repeated succession of quarter notes and six semiquavers acting as a leitmotif which appears at other times and brings the work to a close, are well-known. After this melodically captivating but calm and transparent beginning, the clarinet immediately enters, apparently coming from beyond, with an ascending phrase and, a few measures later, the first of the three themes involved in the exposition emerges, expressed by the cello. In 6/8 time, following a rhythmically distinctive subsidiary idea, the second is introduced in the wind instrument, followed by the third, with slightly staccato syncopation. A new secondary idea takes centre stage in the free development. The re-exposition is symmetrical and the coda is reminiscent of the opening motif in the voice of the clarinet.
The adagio has the simple structure of a ternary lied (ABA) and is, as someone said, “a true love song”, a cantilena in which the clarinet exhibits an extended, simple and sweet motif, sustained by the muted strings. The central episode, più lento, in the main tonality of the work, has a Hungarian gypsy flavour typical of certain works by this author. In the repetition of the first part there is a sublime dialogue between the clarinet and the violin and a free coda of exceptional intimacy.
Two parts comprise the third movement, a melodious andantino in 4/4 time and a presto non assai, ma con sentimento in 2/4 time which transforms the initial melody into a joyous dance with a lighter and more stirring nature, in a scheme similar to the one used in the third movement of Symphony No. 2.
Brahms resorts to a theme with variations to end the piece. It is played with simplicity by the strings, with brief exclamations from the soloist. The cello is the protagonist of the first variation, while the second is more restless and syncopated; in the third, the clarinet combines melodic and arpeggiated fragments with the first violin, while the tender dialogue between the wind instrument and the first violin returns in the fourth; the fifth, which no longer progresses in 2/4 but in 3/8 time, displays a deformed echo of the leitmotif. This theme will literally appear a little later in the coda as a final memory. This is the best end for a score which, as William Youngren indicates, reflects the ability and originality of Brahms, a composer capable of creating asymmetrical constructions, giving complexity to developments and harmonic and rhythmic ambiguity and reaching beyond the accepted formal limits.
The Vogler Quartet, which still features the four original members, was founded in 1985. More than 30 years since its foundation, it has secured a place among the best chamber music quartets, thanks to the skills of each individual and to how they complement each other, and has been a guest on most of the world‘s major concert platforms. It was the quartet’s sensational success at the 1986 string quartet competition in Evian, France, where they won several prizes that set the quartet on the path to a great international career. The Vogler Quartet’s repertoire covers both a classical repertoire, from Haydn to Bartók, including the Second Viennese School, and lesser-known or brand-new works, giving them an unusual range. Modern compositions have been written for them by Ian Wilson, Gerald Barry, Frank Michael Beyer, Jörg Widmann, Mauricio Kagel, Erhard Grosskopf, amongst others.
The Quartet’s versatility and openness are also reflected in their frequent collaborations with other well-known musicians; their spectrum ranges from a quintet featuring a piano, clarinet, viola or cello to works scored for an octet. Examples of their collaborations are the CD they released in 2008 with clarinetist Chen Halevi and pianist Jascha Nemtsov with works of the “New Jewish School”, and the glamorous partnering with Ute Lemper in 2012. The CD “Paris Days & Berlin Nights” on Steinway & Sons with Ute Lemper earned them a Grammy Awards nomination in 2013. They have just released a double CD on the occasion of their 30th anniversary which features Kurt Weill, Werner Henze, Jörd Widmann, Mauricio Kagel, Ravel, and one CD with mezzo-soprano Zandra McMaster, with works for voice and quartet by Respighi, Chausson and Garcia Abril. They have performed with great success at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, in Santiago de Compostela, at the Sligo Festival in Ireland and at the Berlin Konzerthaus. Soon the Vogler Quartet will be adding a complete recording of Dvorak quartets to their already-extensive discography.
The Vogler Quartet has a number of regular commitments: they have their own concert series at the Konzerthaus Berlin, they appear at the annual festival “Music in Drumcliffe” in the Irish town of Sligo and are responsible for the artistic direction of the “Kammermusiktage Homburg/Saar”. In addition, they run the children’s music festival in Kassel “Nordhessische Kindermusiktage”, which has won several prizes. The Vogler's do a great deal of teaching in masterclasses and workshops for professional quartets both in Europe and overseas. In 2013 they were invited to teach and perform at the “McGill International String Quartet Academy” in Montreal. From 2007 to 2012 the members of the Vogler Quartet were appointed professors for chamber music at the Stuttgart Musikhochschule as successors to the Melos Quartet. Since then they have been teaching in different colleges/Hochschulen in cities such as Berlin, Leipzig, Stuttgart and Dublin.
A native of Mallorca, Spain, clarinetist Pascual MartínezForteza joined the New York Philharmonic in 2001 as the first and only Spanish musician in the history of the orchestra. Prior to his appointment with the Philharmonic, he held tenure with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and at age 18 he was assistant principal and subsequently acting principal of the Baleares Symphony Orchestra in Spain. He has recently performed as guest principal clarinet with the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle.
He regularly appears as a soloist, recitalist, and masterclass teacher at international festivals and conservatories, including the International Clarinet Festival of Chanchung (China), ClarinetFest 2009 (Porto, Portugal), Buffet Crampon Summer Clarinet Festival (Jacksonville, Florida), University of Southern California, Mannes School of Music, The Juilliard School, New Jersey Clarinet Symposium, XI Encuentro Internacional de Clarinetes de Lisboa (Portugal). Past and future engagements include solo performances of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, Weber’s Clarinet Concertos Nos.1 and 2, Krommer’s Concerto for Two Clarinets, Rossini’s Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra, and Luigi Bassi’s Fantasy on Verdi’s Rigoletto. He frequently collaborates with Philharmonic colleagues at the Avery Fisher Hall, Merkin Concert Hall, and Carnegie Hall.
Since 2003 Pascual MartínezForteza and Spanish pianist Gema NietoForteza have played throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States as Duo FortezaNieto. Together they founded the Benifaió Music Festival in Spain, where Philharmonic colleagues join them for a week of masterclasses and concerts. A decade ago, he founded Vent Cameristic, a wind ensemble from Spain with whom he has played every year at the Concerts d’Estiú in Valencia, Spain. In 2003 Spanish National Radio (RNE) produced a CD featuring selections from these performances. MartínezForteza has also made recordings for radio and television in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
He started playing the clarinet at age ten inspired by his father Pascual V. Martínez, principal clarinet of the Baleares Symphony Orchestra for 30 years and teacher at the Baleares Conservatory of Music. He earned his master’s degree from the Baleares and Liceo de Barcelona Music Conservatories in Spain and pursued advanced studies with Yehuda Gilad at the University of Southern California, where he won first prize in the university’s 1998 Concerto Competition. Mr. MartínezForteza is currently a faculty member at New York University. A Buffet Crampon Artist and Vandoren Artist, he plays Green Line Tosca Buffet clarinets and uses Vandoren reeds and M30D mouthpieces.
Born in Northern Ireland, Zandra McMaster lives in Madrid. She has sung as soloist with many orchestras, such as the BBC Symphony, Lyon National, Prague Philharmonia, Helsinki Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, Berlin Symphony, Budapest Symphony, Ulster Orchestra, Edmonton Symphony, NDR Hannover, SWR Baden-Baden, London Mozart Players, Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, Gulbenkian Orchestra, Südwestdeutsche Philharmonie Konstanz, Norway Radio Orchestra, Israel Sinfonietta, Armenian Philharmonic, Salzburg Chamber and Slovakian Philharmonic, and most of the best Spanish orchestras, under conductors such as Jiri Belohlávek, Sir Colin Davis, Támas Vásáry, Juanjo Mena, John Nelson, Adam Fischer, Josep Pons, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Enrique García Asensio, Junichi Hirokami, Antoni Ros-Marbá, Lawrence Foster, Salvador Más, Jun Märkl, Tim Murray and Ari Rasilainen. In opera she has taken part in productions of the ROH Covent Garden, Hamburg Opera, London Opera Ensemble and Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. She has sung in Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, France, Austria, Slovakia, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Portugal, Greece, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Armenia, Cyprus, USA and Canada.
In 2002 she sang in five gala concerts in Switzerland with tenor Neil Schicoff, with acts from Carmen and Werther. She has sung many times with legendary soprano Edita Gruberova, including in Cologne and Baden-Baden in 2002, at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in 2003, at a gala during the Bratislava Festival in 2004, and has also shared the stage with tenor Piotr Beczala in five performances of Beatrice di Tenda by Bellini at the Hamburg Opera in 2005. In 2006 she sang in the world premiere of the Missa Solemnis by Leopold Mozart, with the Orfeo Catalá, Budapest Symphony Orchestra and Támas Vásáry. During subsequent seasons, Zandra McMaster sang on many occasions the Wesendonk Lieder by Wagner, Kindertotenlieder and Das Lied von der Erde by Mahler, L’Enfant de Christ and Nuits d’Été by Berlioz, and Beethoven´s Ninth and Bernstein First Symphony. In 2012 Zandra McMaster sang First Mezzo in Mahler’s Eight Symphony with the Spanish National Orchestra in Madrid, and in the world premiere of the Cantata Mater Amabilis composed for her by Carles Guinovart. During the most recent seasons she has sung with the Armenian Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic, Spanish National Orchestra, Spanish Radio TV Symphony Orchestra, Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, Konstanz and Kuopio Symphony Orchestras.
She has recorded Lucia de Lammermoor by Donizetti on CD with Edita Gruberova and Josep Bros for Nightingale; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Lyon National Orchestra and Jun Märkl for Altus; a Recital with Pianist Alessio Bax with songs by Spanish composer Antón García Abril, and the First Mezzo in Mahler’s Eight Symphony with the Spanish National Orchestra and Josep Pons on DVD for Deutsche Grammophon. Her last recording was with the Vogler Quartet from Berlin with songs for voice and string quartet by Respighi, Chausson and García Abril for Klassik aus Berlin, giving concerts in Madrid, Santiago, Ireland and Berlin.