The instincts of siblings are on display in Columbia with the Schumann Quartett
By Mike Giuliano
Baltimore Sun Media|
Feb 20, 2020 | 12:00 PM
The chamber music concerts presented by Candlelight Concert Society showcase the close musical kinship between several performers on stage. These classical musicians are extremely well-trained, of course, but there is also an instinctual quality to how their tightly coordinated playing is facilitated with a glance, a nod or a slightly raised bow.
That will definitely be the case when the Schumann Quartett appears at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, in Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre.
If chamber musicians generally have an innate ability to be on the same musical wavelength as their on-stage colleagues, this particular string quartet has a very specific biographical reason for getting along so well in concert: Three of the quartet’s four members are brothers. Erik and Ken Schumann play the violin, and Mark Schumann plays the cello. They have been performing together since childhood, so it’s tempting to consider these German siblings to be so close that they don’t even need to speak in order to communicate with each other.
However, the remaining member of the group is not exactly a newcomer. Liisa Randalu, who plays the viola, has performed with them since 2012. The Estonian-born violist was raised in Germany, so has strong cultural ties with them as well.
Although firmly rooted in that country, the Schumann Quartett is no stranger to the United States. New York audiences certainly know the group through its residency at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
After touching down in Columbia, the group’s current North American tour features stops later in February that include Melbourne, Florida and Toronto. The current season also has concerts in the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.
As a musically adventurous chamber music group, the Schumann Quartett further enhances its presence in the classical music landscape with albums that highlight its diverse repertory. Its 2018 album “Intermezzo” includes works by Schumann, Mendelssohn and Reimann. Its earlier album “Mozart Ives Verdi” musically touches down in several different countries. And speaking of musical landscapes, another one of its previous albums, “Landscapes,” travels through music history from the 18th century to the present with works by Haydn, Bartok, Takemitsu and Part.
All of this makes the Schumann Quartett primed to play the three works posted on its Columbia concert bill.
The upcoming local concert begins with the 18th-century genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Quartet in D Major, K. 499, “Hoffmeister.” This particular piece reflects the influence exerted on Mozart by a musical elder, Haydn. The surface elegance associated with Haydn, though, is balanced with more somber passages.
Next up is Dimitri Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 9 in E-flat Major, op. 117. The 20th-century Russian composer often struggled to have his compositions accepted by Soviet cultural authorities, who could be so arbitrary that his career was constantly subject to political whims.
It’s notable that Shostakovich did struggle creatively as he composed several versions of his ninth quartet before finalizing it in 1964. The effort was worth it, because the piece has a thematic fullness that seems all the richer owing to the fact that it is played straight through without a rest between movements. Its momentum carries the listener along.
Filling out the second half of the program, Bedrich Smetana’s Quartet no. 1 in E Minor, “From My Life,” is a satisfying reminder that this 19th-century Czech composer musically captured the essence of the homeland that meant so much to him. As this piece’s “From My Life” reference indicates, this is an overtly autobiographical composition in which Smetana contemplated the onset of deafness. There is even a section in which the music has a ringing tone emulating the tinnitus that was starting to afflict the composer’s hearing.
The Candlelight audience can feel confident that the Schumann Quartett will bring these three pieces alive on the Smith Theatre stage. As the group observes in a collective artist statement: “A work really develops only in a live performance. That is ‘the real thing,’ because we ourselves never know what will happen. On the stage, all imitation disappears, and you automatically become honest with yourself. Then you can create a bond with the audience — communicate with it in music.”
The Schumann Quartett performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, in Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. For ticket information, go to candlelightconcerts.org.