Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Goldmund Quartet takes Oregon by storm

The young German quartet performed Haydn, Borodin, and Beethoven on a mid-winter Chamber Music Northwest concert at The Old Church.

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Goldmund Quaret at The Old Church for Chamber Music Northwest. Photo by Nicole Lane.
Goldmund Quaret at The Old Church for Chamber Music Northwest. Photo by Nicole Lane.

Feedback from performances in Ashland the preceding Friday and Saturday predicted the reactions from an ecstatic audience at Portland’s Old Church, January 28th, when Chamber Music Northwest presented Germany’s Goldmund Quartet: The Quartet announced that they had no CDs to offer us because the enthusiastic audience in Ashland had bought all of them.

The Goldmund Quartet’s members: Florian Schötz and Pinchas Adt, violins, Christoph Vandory, viola, and Raphael Paratore, cello. Their instruments are the Antonio Stradivari Paganini Quartet.

“Listen to This!”

In his introduction to the group, Artistic Co-Director Soovin Kim told how they first learned about the Goldmund while he was brushing his teeth. His wife, Co-Director Gloria Chien, was watching one of the Quartet’s Haydn videos and said, “LIsten to this!” whereupon Soovin paused his brushing. Then a minute later, “Listen to this Shostakovich!” At that point he stopped brushing altogether. That was when they decided to bring the dynamic young string quartet to Portland, right before the pandemic, with the predictable outcome. CMNW did, however, present the group in a virtual concert during 2021, but everyone was looking forward to seeing and hearing them in person this winter.

Cheers for Haydn

From the first notes of the Haydn, we were completely in their thrall. It was not just four handsome young men in patent leather shoes, but it was amazing music — not only beautifully played, but music with a visceral effect! The intimacy and favorable acoustics of The Old Church certainly helped.

Haydn’s Opus 76 No. 2 in D minor, “Die Quinten,” gets its name from the repeated descending fifths that occur persistently throughout the first movement. While this could get a little boring, the first violinist gave these notes a lilting quality that instead characterized the sunny and playful Haydn. This motif went around from player to player so fast there was hardly time to catch a breath. Throughout, the Quartet made the most of constantly changing dynamics and the effect was both subtle and rich.

The calm and satisfying Andante was followed by an unconventionally vigorous Minuet reminiscent of stomping peasant boots, with a fairy-like trio referred to sometimes as a “Witch’s Minuet.” During the fourth movement the Quartet used the little silences to dramatic effect, where a single plucked note or squeak elicited murmurs in the audience. As the finale built up, it was as though the audience was pulled onto a fast-moving train, culminating in bravos and cheers. Shouts and cheers for Haydn? Yes, and especially for Haydn. It seems that classical music is alive and well, at least in Oregon.

Borodin

Switching from Haydn’s fast-moving train to the elegant Borodin was a different kind of pleasure. One reason for the Goldmund’s affinity for Borodin could be that they had studied with one of the Borodin Quartet’s members. Appropriate for a concert a few weeks shy of Valentine’s Day, the second movement was to swoon for, but never lacking in control. The third movement, made famous on Broadway, was not just a sleepy nocturne, but sweetness paired with some triple forte passages, both tender and passionate. The finale’s driving rhythm was like strong coffee after dessert.

Sponsor

Metropolitan Youth Symphony Music Concert Rooted Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Razumovsky

After the intermission, the Goldmund performed Beethoven’s first Razumovsky, a very masculine quartet, long, complex, and full of huge dynamic contrasts, an example of what Beethoven told complaining musicians of that era — that it was not for the hoi polloi, but “for a later age.” As expected, the Quartet gave a masterful performance, contrasting the hauntingly beautiful longing of the third movement with the joyous Russian folk themes of the fourth. It’s little wonder that some broken bow strings flew around here and there.

Young Musicians On Their Way

The Goldmund’s website features high praise from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, southern Germany’s leading newspaper, referring to the Quartet’s “exquisite” playing and “multi-layered homogeneity.” The Quartet has won numerous prizes and honors. After winning competitions in London’s Wigmore Hall in 2018 and the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition the same year, they were on their way to win several others. 

You could ask how a quartet so young could be so accomplished. One reason is that they have been together more than 10 years, and three of the four members went to high school together in the Munich area. They have a particular fondness for Schubert, whom they call “the eternal wanderer,” and their affection could be due to the influence of Alpine folk music on the composer. The Goldmund waited 12 years before recording Death and the Maiden along with some songs arranged by their colleague Jakob Encke. Four previous recordings feature the string quartets of Haydn and Shostakovich; an album called Travel Diaries featuring the work of Wolfgang Rihm and other contemporary composers; and a limited vinyl release by Berlin Classic of contemporary works by Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, and others. 

The Devil’s Strads

One of the Quartet’s greatest coups was to secure the loan of the famous “Paganini Quartet,” the set of Stradivarius instruments once owned by the 19th Century rock star himself. The loan was provided by its current owner, the Nippon Music Foundation, and is for a period of five years. Previous recipient quartets include the Tokyo (for many years), the Hagen, the Cleveland, and Quartetto di Cremona. After the concert, when asked about how he felt about playing the instrument Paganini used to play, cellist Raphael Paratore responded that he felt awe at first, but finally decided that he just needed to get used to it so he could make his own sound.

Parting Gift

After prolonged applause, the Quartet gave us an encore — Dvořák’s Humoresque, successfully avoiding anything trite, and playing with such delicacy that it sounded like velvet.

Goldmund Quaret at The Old Church for Chamber Music Northwest. Photo by Nicole Lane.
Photo by Nicole Lane.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Alice Hardesty has served on the boards of Friends of Chamber Music in Portland and Chamber Music Concerts in Ashland, where she also put in her time on the Ashland City Council. She has an eclectic approach to writing, with publications appearing in places like Oregon HumanitiesTechnology Review, The Washington Post, Street Roots, and several poetry journals. Her book-length memoir, An Uncommon Cancer Journey, was a finalist for the 2015 International Book Awards. Visit her website at bachopress.com.

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