Agnes Kim in "Boston Globe"
The Boston-based Arneis Quartet (violinists Heather Braun and Rose Drucker, violist Daniel Doña, cellist Agnes Kim) takes its name from a variety of grape that is notoriously difficult to cultivate. Wine aficionado websites reveal many things that can go wrong with the fruit; harvest it too late, or the weather’s too warm, or disease spreads through the vineyard, and it’s all over.
The three American works that the string quartet performed Friday night at Massachusetts Institute of Technology were appropriately devilish for a group named for such a grape: the rhythmic labyrinth of Elena Ruehr’s String Quartet No. 3, the heady hymns of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 3, the lightning-in-a-jar modernism of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s String Quartet. With high risks came high reward, and the Arneis Quartet offered an intense, indelible experience to the small crowd in Killian Hall.
No notes were distributed for the intermissionless program, but Harbison and Ruehr, both MIT faculty members, spoke from the floor-level stage. Ruehr proffered insights into the personal story behind her piece, and the quartet’s rendition had the intimate and almost forbidden feeling of stumbling upon a diary. Particularly so was the second movement, “The Abbey,” which was written with an ailing relative in mind; contemplative resonant passages were shattered by harsh slashing gestures, evoking reality breaking through reverie.....
Britten’s Pure Admiration for Purcell
The second concert in the Emmanuel Music’s Britten festival weekend focused on his second quartet and his setting of sonnets by John Donne with emotionally riveting performances unlike those in the first of the three-concert offering during the night before. As Lee Eiseman’s review of that concert attests, Britten himself was somewhat defensive about the naiveté of his early, teen-age work. Artistic Director Ryan Turner told the audience that yesterday’s program would show that Britten left behind his “intellectual restlessness” for his mature musical development—a fair analysis. Already signed up to attend all three concerts, this writer, having stepped into the reviewer’s role on short notice, is pleased to report on a very rewarding Saturday afternoon.
The influence of Purcell, whom Britten held in great esteem, infused the entire event. Britten filled his Quartet No. 2 in C Major, written in 1945 for the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death, with the earlier composer’s expressive devices, though transformed by 20th-century sensibilities. And in particular, his use of the archaic term Chacony for the third movement paid special homage. The Arneis Quartet (first violinist Heather Braun-Bakken, second violinist Rose Drucker, violist Daniel Doña, and cellist Agnes Kim) ably met Britten’s demands for the expressive possibilities of the quartet medium. Doña also wrote the very lucid, erudite program notes.....
Reviews from Fanfare Magazine Issue 40:2
American composer John H. Wallace, who lives in Salem, Massachusetts—this will become important lat-
er—gives us three chamber works centered around a string quartet, although only the frst, “pale refections...”,
features a string quartet. Like any contemporary composer, Wallace is faced with a basic challenge, no matter
what else he puts into his scores, of making the ear hear something new and personal. He has two notable
talents to reach this end: structure and expression. Neither is an abstract term in Wallace’s case.
For structure, he has devised a soundscape where counterpoint and balance (including musical palindromes)
create a settled, inward, mood by drawing us into small details that stand out like snowfakes suspended in
slow motion. One thinks back to Webern, perhaps, as the progenitor of this technique; but where Webern’s
textures pinpoint isolated notes, intervals, and chords against the backdrop of silence, Wallace lays down a
carpet of mostly slow-moving chords, often in blocks. Te ear gets accustomed to these constants, and then
Wallace’s meticulous craftsmanship produces variations extracted from a narrow range of notes or motifs. I
know this sounds schematic—never a quality that promises enjoyment—but here is where his second talent,
for expression, enters. In all three works the carefully, sometimes tightly, organized progression has emotional
overtones. Te ear is never lost, because a steady stream of expression—generally calm but at times sensual,
nostalgic, elegiac, and (rarely) disruptive—envelops us.....