Enso String Quartet at Maverick

There’s something magical about the sun shining while it’s raining, as it was outside Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, NY on Sunday. There’s also something magical about the Enso String Quartet , as there was during their concert at Maverick on Sunday. The quartet really does embody the definition of their name, which is Japanese for “circle,” and the Zen symbol that belongs to it, which has many meanings: perfection and imperfection, the simple and the profound, creation and the circle of life, the true nature of existence and enlightenment. Maureen Nelson on violin, John Marcus on violin, Melissa Reardon on viola, and Richard Belcher on cello create all those contradictions and more with their playing — in a good way!

String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4
Joseph Haydn

Allegro
Un poco adagio e affettuoso
Menuet alla zingarese
Presto e scherzando

String Quartet No. 4
Béla Bartók

Allegro
Prestissimo, con sordino
Non troppo lento
Allegretto pizzicato
Allegro molto

String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 41, No. 1
Robert Schumann

Andante espressivo – Allegro
Scherzo: Presto
Adagio
Presto

Haydn’s quartet opens mildly, and is lyrical in all it’s parts: slow passages, forte runs, and all the other delights it contains. Through the first movements many progressions, the musicians timing was without flaw. The second movement begins with a melancholy melody guided by first violin. Second violin and viola then have a gentle duet, first violin and cello adding depth in their accompaniment, before cello leads the others, bringing the music through a woven path of sorrow. The music returns to the opening, and evolves from there to charge forcefully to an end. The third movement is playful — in a mature way — ushering in the last movement, which opens with runs on violin. The music is exciting, full of interesting dynamics and passages, and increases in passion to finish.

Bartók’s forcefully driving Quartet No. 4 is full of unusual sounds and textures (as all Bartok’s music is). Suave, frustrated, and begging are all words that come to mind when listing to the opening movement, and a few broken hairs on the musicians bows is to be expected due to the severity of the music — dissonant, although not displeasing — which grumbles at times, anxiously moving forward from moment to moment. All instruments play with muted strings for the second movement, which enters as though through the subconscious mind; never fully there, but inescapable all the same — a feeling that lasts the entire movement, which slides to an end with a question. The third movement is first heard descending upon the room, bewitching in personality and character. Cello goes on to claim the spotlight while the others continue the hazy music, before first violin hesitantly takes over. Viola then gets it’s turn, and whatever instruments aren’t showing their prowess continue to sustain a curtain of distant sound. Bows are put aside for the fourth movement, which is completely plucked. The music Bartók composed for that is some of the most innovative and interesting I have ever had the pleasure of hearing and, unless you have heard it for yourself, you can’t possibly imagine the sounds that can be coaxed by plucking four instruments… It’s extraordinary. Tribal and war-like, the last movement is somewhat hostile, but draws you in instead of making you back away. The outcome of the movement is decidedly complex, as is the music leading up to it’s conclusion. The piece is brilliant, and so was the Enso’s playing.

The exquisitely heartbreaking first movement of Schumann’s first string quartet has great depth. After a pause, the music restarts more brightly with a sun kissed glow, closing with a sustained note on first violin and two slow plucked notes on the other instruments. The second movement is daring and chivalrous, bringing to mind the imagery of a joust, or perhaps a sword fight. The middle section is more subdued, but then segways back into the sparring beginning. The music has perpetual motion, and a rousing finish. Cello helps introduce the absolutely majestic third movement, a short while later viola carries a moving melody full of mercy and tenderness, and finally all instruments play as equals, rising in spirals to soar above, in this case, the chapel where we the audience sat listening. The presto last movement showed off the Enso Quartet’s technique and passion, but that’s not to say it’s showy. It is energetic and has parts that are full of drama, yet others still are more simply played (but not simple). The latter parts are less and less, however, as the music draws to a close with nothing but exhilaration and abandon.

The Enso String Quartet, whose concert Sunday marked their Maverick debut, were called back to the stage three times after the last piece was finished. They got the not so subtle hint from the audience’s applause, stomping, and shouts of “Bravo!” that we wished to hear an encore, and obliged with a composition by a friend of theirs, Ljova. He is a composer and violist who has arranged music for a wide range of musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, the Kronos Quartet, and Jay-Z, and has composed music for film and TV. The piece the quartet played on Sunday was called “Bagel on the Malecon.” There were shades of a Spanish tango embedded in the work, and the musicians played it with the same artfulness and sophistication that they did everything else. The Enso has earned itself a spot on my list of favorite string quartets, and I hope to see them at Maverick again in the summers to come.

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