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The Catawba Valley Arts and Science Center was host to the Western Piedmont Symphony's Chamber Classics Celebration, which featured performances by La Catrina Quartet, the orchestra's current quartet-in-residence, and the Fry Street Quartet, the first quartet-in-residence. At a reception following the concert, I was asked what I was going to have to say about the performance, to which I replied, "It's hard to have much of anything to say when one is speechless." I probably need not write another word for you to get the point, but continue on I shall.
La Catrina Quartet – Daniel Vega-Albela and Blake Espy, violins; Jorge Martinez, viola; and Alan Daowz, cello – were joined by clarinetist Alfredo Valdés-Brito Hoyos in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's (1756-1791) Clarinet Quintet in A, K. 581. Mozart loved the clarinet more than any other wind instrument, and in this quintet he achieved an integration of the clarinet with the strings never before seen in works for strings and a single wind instrument in that the clarinet serves not as just a solo instrument, but as an integral part of the ensemble. This quintet, as well as the Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, was composed for Mozart's friend, Anton Stadler, who was the premier clarinetist of his day. There are a number of similarities between the two works, most notably the slow movements, which are filled with immense passion and tender love.
Clarinetist Alfredo Valdés-Brito Hoyos was born in Cuba, and studied in Havana and Berlin. He has served as principal clarinet of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, and since 1994, has been professor of clarinet at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico and also principal clarinet of the Symphony Orchestra of Michoacán. His playing of Mozart's quintet was sublime, with great fluidity and virtuosity, with not one hint of harshness, mirrored by the delicate nimbleness and richness of La Catrina Quartet. The ensemble reflected the great passion that Mozart had for the clarinet and this quintet.
For its seventh homecoming since completing their residency in Hickory, the Fry Street Quartet chose to perform String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, "Death and the Maiden," by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). The quartet – William Fedkenheuer and Rebecca McFaul, violins; Russell Fallstad, viola; and Anne Francis, cello – is currently the Faculty String Quartet in Residence at Utah State University, and has performed both nationally and internationally. They have recently released their fourth and fifth commercial recordings of Haydn and Beethoven quartets.
This quartet owes its name "Death and the Maiden" to the andante movement, a set of variations on Schubert's song of the same name written in 1817. The first movement is hard and driving, one of the most substantial of Schubert's musical output. The second is a theme and variations taken from the macabre song of the title. The third movement is a rhythmic scherzo, and the final movement a relentless tarantella.
Little can be said about the Fry Street Quartet's playing that I have not already said. They play like a single living, breathing organism, with a depth and understanding that grows with each passing year. Unfortunately, Schubert never lived to hear a public performance of this work. Although it is now considered one of the most splendid creations in the chamber music genre, its first performance did not receive unanimous adulation, unlike this performance.
I can, however, sum up this concert in one word: "Breathtaking."