The Rossetti String Quartet at Maverick

Another Sunday means another afternoon at Maverick, and that in turn means another post about a great classical concert. This time, it’s about the Rossetti String Quartet. The quartet is named after the 19th century painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the members are Henry Gronnier on violin, Sara Parkins on violin, Thomas Diener on viola, and Eric Gaenslen on cello.

String Quartet in G major, K. 387, “Spring”
Wolfgang Amadaeus Mozart

Allegro vivace assai

Menuetto: Allegro – allegretto

Andante cantabile

Molto allegro

String Quartet in A minor
Charles Gounod


Allegretto quasi moderato


Finale allegretto

String Quartet in F major
Maurice Ravel

Allegro moderato – Très doux

Assez vif – Très rythmé

Très lent

Vif et agité

Mozart’s “Spring” Quartet opened sweetly, breathing life into the still air and delighting all who heard it (which was a packed roomful, as is always the case at Maverick), and the Rossetti played it with the delicacy and finesse needed. The balance of all the instruments was perfect during the second movement, one never overpowering another. Instead, they gently nudged and teased, each knowing it’s worth and contributing to the whole. Mozart’s quartet unfolded slowly and mildly, each movement digging a little deeper into the heart of the music. As for the third movement, it was achingly compassionate. First and second violin played with continuous sweetness, cello murmured, while viola lurked in the background, adding a fullness which would have otherwise been lacking. The Allegro last movement really flattered the Rossetti Quartet’s group dynamics, technique, and style. It’s a bold movement, and they really brought it alive in all it’s glory.

Two forte wrathful chords, followed by a run, introduced Gounod’s Quartet in A minor. Another two forte wrathful chords, followed by another run, led into another run, and another, and another… Cello growled deeply, playing it’s lowermost notes, and the music was free while not being wild. Just because it wasn’t wild doesn’t mean the music lacked passion however, for it certainly did not. The second movement was filled with some of the finest music I’ve ever heard. Thrilling, in a slightly despairing way, it ushered the darkness that lies within all our hearts out into the open. In less capable hands (and fingers) the music could have been dry, but not so when controlled by the Rossetti String Quartet. Like fire, it warmed heart and limbs. The staccato third movement, scattered with legato passages, bounced from one instrument to the next, charging onward with ease. The last movement was staccato, legato, and pizzicato (plucked). It had a lot of personality, but was not flashy. The ending mellowed out a little bit and finished with plucked strings.

The music of Ravel’s only string quartet soars from the opening and, as far as the afternoon’s program was concerned, the best was definitely saved for last. The first movement swelled with urgency, and many things were explained at once in the music, which lulled and hypnotized. After the way the Rossetti played Gounad, however, I was slightly underwhelmed by their performance of the Ravel. I thought their playing would tug at my heartstrings more effectively than it did. Yes, they sounded beautiful, but they didn’t give the music the spirit it deserved or needed. However, as I said in my last post about a concert at Maverick, I have had the joy of hearing the Shanghai String Quartet play it live (and was shaking and in tears by the end of it), so every other quartet falls short by comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I was still glad to hear it on Sunday, I was just expecting more. The Rossetti Quartet redeemed themselves slightly with their playing of the second movement, which has a lyrical fairy-like introduction  — fluttering in an unearthly way. Ravel’s use of harmonies and sounds creates music from ashes; the ashes and dirt from the very core of humanity. Viola takes the spotlight to begin the slow third movement, and maintains it throughout. Edgy, surreal heavenly chords open the last movement, which is played agitatedly and is full of impossibilities: harsh, yet sweet; forceful, yet flowing; mystical, yet earthly… Ravel’s quartet has given me hope and inspiration, time and time again. I only wish I could say the same of the Rossetti String Quartet’s playing of it. I admit I have high expectations whenever I hear it — as I already stated — and the musicians playing did move me at times, but it was lacking that quality that takes it from “Wow…” (and it was wow, I’ll give them that) to, “Oh my goodness, my heart is racing and I’m literally breathless.”

The Rossetti String Quartet were called back for an encore, for which they played the Adagio movement from Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 44, No. 3. It was without a question gorgeous, but I wish they hadn’t played it, for it ruined the taste of the Ravel that still lingered in my mouth and head.


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