Chamber Music

Thursday, October 12, 2000 20:00     Macao Cultural Centre Small Auditorium     100


String Sextet from Capriccio, Op. 85
R. Strauss (1864 - 1949)
Andante con moto

String Sextet in A Major, Op. 48
A. Dvořák (1841 - 1904)
Allegro moderato


String Sextet in G Major, Op.36
J. Brahms (1833 -1897)
Allegro ma non troppo
Poco allegro

Xiao Dong Wang Ittai Shapira

Kirsten JohnsonRachel Shapiro

Edward Arron Alexis Pia Gerlach

Concertante Chamber Players, U.S.A.

R. Strauss: String Sextet from Capriccio, Op. 85

This unique "Piece within a piece" opens Strauss's last opera, the one-act Capriccio (1940-41). The Sextet is heard offstage as the opera's main characters, the composer Flamand and the poet Olivier, discuss the relative merit of words and music in opera, a favorite subject of Strauss. The Sextet he aptly called "a   conversation piece." Flamand watches his employer and beloved, the Countess Madeleine, to determine her reaction to his piece.

While writing about writing - and certainly composing about composing - can be deadly, in the case of Capriccio it somehow works. Paul Hosely, in his note accompanying the recent Philadelphia orchestra member performance of the Sextet, calls Capriccio "one of the composer's most intimate and effortlessly melodic theatre pieces", a statement corroborated by Strauss himself when he called it "a second Rosenkavalier without the longeurs."

None of his opera scores, says Strauss scholar Michael Kennedy, is "more refined, more translucent, more elegant, more varied..." Thus it is with the Sextet. In the final debate over the significance of words and music in opera, it would seem the music, absolute music, wins.

A. Dvořák : String Sextet in A Major, Op. 48

The A Major Sextet is a fine example of Dvořák's  virtues. Rich in Slavonic blood, the work also reveals a masterful compositional style.

The first movement takes a sonata form with its quiet and delicate main theme, a development with agogic or "off beat" rhythmic patterns, and a tender return which reflects the main theme. The second movement employs Dvořák's  beloved dumka, an elegaic Slavonic folk ballad form allowing great freedom of expression with its fast and slow tempos. Here Dvořák uses a slow Gypsy polka alternating with a lovely and expressive Gypsy lullaby.

The third movement is a not so furious furiant with a trio section reminiscent of his Slavonic Dances. The last movement is a set of six variations fluctuating between B minor and A major with a brighter middle section in D Major. While the harmonic development is consistent, the melodic development is exploratory. The closing is a stretto, a quickening of tempo, a kind of piling together that lends the music great excitement.

J. Brahms: String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36

The String Sextet in G. Major, meditative and complex nonetheless retains some of the sunniness of Brahms earlier sextet. Brahms himself described the work to his publisher as having "the same jovial character" as the First Sextet. We doubt how seriously we can take those words when Brahms further comments wryly: "That", he added, "is a favor one is seldom in a position to grant the public".

We must recall too, that Sir Donald Tovey calls this Second Sextet "the most ethereal of all Brahms' larger works".

Cobbett uses no fewer superlatives when he comments that "the shadow of the unearthly pathos of the slow movement eclipses only to reveal the corona and the stars", and that the last variation of this movement "arches itself over the whole like a sky in which all clouds are resting on the horizon and dazzlingly white". While that kind of critical writing may be a thing of the past, the effectiveness of Brahms music is not.

Written in 1864-65, the Second Sextet sometimes bears the subtitle "Agathe" after Agathe von Seibold whom Brahms had deserted because of his reluctance to marry. "I love you! I must see you again, but I cannot wear fetters!" His guilt over the affair "I have played the scoundrel toward Agathe" was apparently assuaged by weaving her name into the second theme of the first movement. While for Brahms it meant a certain exoneration, "Here I have freed myself from my last love" for us it is simply a wonderful theme which predominates the work and locks it into our memory.