March 6, 2020: Harrington String Quartet

Harrington String Quartet
“Dream” Concert
Northern Recital Hall
Feb 9, 2020

Originally planned as one part of a three-event effort, the review of this incredible performance, even though a month out, deserves stand-alone status.

On February 7, the internationally-acclaimed Harrington String Quartet demonstrated why it has garnered that recognition, playing a concert of Gershwin, Verdi and Dvorak entitled Dream.

Lullaby represents Gershwin’s first foray in the classical field. Composed in 1919, the piece wasn’t published until years after his death,

The work has a beautiful, slow, waltz-like flow, and at times each instrument sings in a distinctive, yet harmonious blend.

At 4:15 a cello solo announces a different theme which then assumes the same easy rhythm, producing an almost hypnotic effect, probably inspiring the program title, Dream. Those associating Gershwin only with Rhapsody in Blue need to appreciate the other side of this American genius.

Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor was the composer’s only venture into chamber music, and derived from the composer’s fear of boredom!

In Naples in 1873, with the production of Aida going full throttle, the leading diva had to take three week’s sick leave. Guiseppe had nothing better to do so he decided he might as well write a string quartet. So, Voila!

Even so the composer, among the few who heard and applauded the piece, disparaged the work, which wasn’t published for another three years.

The first three movements, not surprisingly, echo themes of Aida.

The fourth movement, Scherzo-Fuga, doesn’t. This section has punch and energy, and, though there is a thematic change, it is only temporary, and the charge carries onward to the finale. The title may offer some clue, since Scherzo in Italian means “joke,” and, in the context of a program entitled Dream, perhaps this becomes the bad dream.

But, Verdi, almost unique among composers, doesn’t allow the second violin to play second fiddle, but gave the instrument almost equal standing. Evgeny Zvonnikov, HSQ’s spectacular second, certainly met this challenge and seized the opportunity to let his strings sing.

So, next time you’re bored, and facing forced down time, compose a string quartet. But, show special love to the second violin!

Antonin Dvorak composed his String Quartet in F major, Op. 96, “American” in only sixteen days in Spillville, Iowa, after finishing his New World Symphony. So, under the program umbrella of Dream, this work becomes a nod to the American dream.

Though the composer openly admired American folk music, professing respect for Black, Native American or white settlers, actual connections in the work only tease the listener.

In fact, the only truly American tune is in the third movement and is that of a local song bird, which the composer maintains is one type and ornithologists say is another. In this small instance, perhaps science rises over art.

This work has become one of the most popular in the quartet repertoire, not only in this country, but around the word. And, to hear Dvorak’s work played in Northern Recital Hall, the world’s most advanced, acoustically-adjustable sound space, was transcendent!

And when in the heart of the Comancheria and Cowboy Country locals can hear world-class chamber music played by world-class musicians is an indication of something special.

That “something” is that this zone of the Texas High Plains is just flat-out (get it?) artsy!

That’s why we always say, no pun intended, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

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